Bombargo's Rocking Good Set Bombards the Hotel Cafe for Debut U.S. Show

Wesley Kneprath
Bombargo

The seven-man rock band hails from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.

Canada's Bombargo is not following the formula for fame. 

They're doing it their own way in 2019, playing large and layered rock and pop songs with a heavy dose of That '70s Show-inspired heartthrob kitsch. On Thursday (Sept. 19), the seven young men who make up the feel-good rock band played their first U.S. show at Hollywood's Hotel Cafe, channeling some serious performance chops in a concert that was both high-energy pop and rocking sounds, wrapping to a raucous Rolling Stones cover of "Miss You."

Bombargo hails from Saskatoon, the largest town in the Canadian province Saskatchewan and the hometown of Jordan Cook of Reignwolf and retro rocker band the Sheepdogs. Bombargo was born in 2013 when lead singer Nathan Thoen and guitarist Spencer Chilliak met and were inspired to form a band after watching Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros perform at Sasquatch Festival in Seattle. The band also draws inspiration from artists like LizzoBruno Mars and the early albums from Maroon 5. Chilliak said his favorite band is Queens of the Stone Age, while Thoen says the band's current sound is inspired by artists like Paolo Nutini, whose video for "Iron Sky" recorded at the Abbey Road studio and 2014 album Caustic Love have had a big impact Bombargo's sound.

"That was always my dream, to have horns and backup harmonies and that big sound," Thoen said. "It was a certain kind of vibe we were looking for when we were growing the band," he explains of the band's makeup, which consists of two sets of brothers. The first siblings to join the group were soulman and keyboardist Matt Folkersen and his baby-faced brother Sammy Lee Folkersen on bass. 

"The brothers came as a set and we met Connor Newton, our saxophone guy, at the exact same time," Thoen explained. Rounding out the group is drummer Niall Cubbon, the band's clean-cut rhythm man, and guitar and singer Anthony Thoen, Nathan's ruggedly cool older brother who rocks a lion's mane of blond hair and rose-lensed aviator glasses, arguably the band's best pair of vintage shades.

"Anthony had his own band and I always dreamed of us coming together on something," Thoen said. 

"Yeah, and it was tough convincing an older brother to join his younger brother's band," Chilliak responded.

"And at the time, he was working with Michael Franti in the United States," Thoen said. "Eventually I told him, 'I don't think I can do this without you.' You know, I've, I've lived my whole life with him. We shared a bedroom forever. To have someone like that with me that can ground me and and check in when things are crazy is what I needed."

Chilliak said Anthony was the band's "human resource guy," adding, "Nathan and I are really intense. We don't fight, but if we did, it would be to the death."

So far, no one has come close and the band is traveling the West Coast in a sprinter van and sharing the vintage threads they grab at thrift shops. Bombargo is touring in support of their single "Oxygen," which broke into Canada’s Top 50 Hot AC radio chart this summer, and “Mr. No Good,” which was featured on Taylor Swift’s “Songs Taylor Loves” star-studded Spotify playlist, pushing the song to two million streams.

While Thursday's show was a heavy industry crowd, the band has some famous fans, including Virgin chief executive Richard Branson, whom they spent time with in Bali. Bombargo is currently writing and recording their second full-length record and shooting an autobiographic film set to coincide with the release — Nathan Theon shoots, directs and edits the band's vibrant and mischievous music videos and mini-docs, and Nathan's little brother designs their merch. 

If you dig chest hair, high-energy perspiration and unrequited sex appeal in trim vintage floral shirts, then Bombargo is probably the band for you. Their aesthetic takes the best elements of arena rock and boat shoe crescendos reminiscent of Steely Dan's signature sound, with each song accentuated by the band's charm, charisma and enduring energy.

"Music is so accessible right now, and when people come out to a venue, they want to see a show. If they just wanted to listen, they would listen at home," Thoen said.

"And from where we started, our whole goal was to impact people's lives," Chilliak added. "And what better way to do that than connect with them individually. Every time we get to meet someone, I think we have an impact because of our story — we started as a couple of guys from Saskatoon that had a pipe dream, and we've experienced all these crazy things that seemed so improbable and so surreal. We want to share that with people who are trying to accomplish something in their own life and make them believe in that thing."

The band is managed by Nadia Prescher of Madison House and plays the second date on their 19-date North American Dream Tour Saturday night in San Diego at the Holding Company in Ocean Beach, before heading north to Santa Cruz, Calif. (Sept. 25), Berkeley, Calif. (Sept. 26), and Eugene, Ore. (Oct. 3). Bombargo is playing Portland's Doug Fir Lounge on Oct. 5 and Belly Up Aspen on Oct. 15 and wrapping their tour Oct. 18 at the AEG Rocky Mountain's new Mission Ballroom, opening for Michael Franti.

Learn more at bombargo.com.

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