By Mandi Kimes
I went into the set of Oh Wonder pretty grumpy. I was at a large venue by myself, surrounded by teenagers and college kids (Arizona folks: think Marquee Theatre). Being around any kind of smoke gives me intense headaches, and since the place was filled with fog, my head was not too happy. After an unimpressive opening band playing a twenty-minute set, and then a lone guitar tech setting up the stage for Oh Wonder for fifty minutes, I was getting antsy. Finally, when someone walked across the stage to the tech and whispered probably “We gotta start!” and walked back, the lights went down and everyone screamed. The tech was still side stage checking guitars.
Immediately, the band made me feel so much better. They started the set with album opener “Live Wire.” Hearing Oh Wonder with full band with a legitimate bassist and drummer is extremely preferable, even though the keys were overpowering in mix against all other instruments. The second song was “Dazzle,” and they added that sense of funk to get the audience dancing. Occasionally, Anthony West would sing harmonies instead of lower octaves from Josephine Vander Gucht’s melody. The lights onstage were really cool, with the “OW” changing patterns and colors, while bright lights in the center shot directly at the audience – sometimes right at me. Admittedly, I couldn’t quite pay attention to their third song because one light was shining right at me, not helping with the already existing headache.
After confessing that this was their biggest show, they moved into “Lose It,” which had the whole crowd excited. The lights were flickering and shining off the walls encouraging people to dance to the upbeat chorus. The song is even funkier with an actual rhythm section onstage. With the whole room singing back the lyrics to the band, you could tell they were enjoying themselves too. When they sang "Body Gold," the crowd not only sang along, but screamed the lyrics. Vander Gucht stepped away from the keyboard to walk and dance around the stage.
The show took a turn for the existential: Vander Gucht introduced “All We Do” as a New Year’s Resolution song by stating, "Remember that you are you and everyone else in the world is everyone else in the world,” before continuing to encourage each person to do the things they love and love the people they love. The simplicity and intimacy of just the two primary songwriters on stage for this song is perfect. After the encouraging song came the comforting song: “Landslide.” The piano introduction was beautiful. These songs are the quintessential teen anthem; no wonder there's so many teens here. It was smart to tag these two songs back-to-back in the set.
The next song is “Without You,” which I always think sounds like Wiz Khalifa’s "Young, Wild & Free." This song especially sounds like Wild Ones, with Vander Gucht’s vocals sounding like Danielle Sullivan in this song. Then, it’s just guitar and the two vocals for “Midnight Moon.” This "stripped down" vibe is cool even if the guitar is electric. I do wish I could have heard the sitar that was on the record for the live show though. The next song was "Heart Hope," and it was even more intense and heart-wrenching live. After listening to it on repeat and racking my brain with trying to figure out what this song reminded me of, I finally went home and found it: City & Colour’s “What Makes a Man?”
Next song is the poppy and upbeat "Drive" with its punchy string synths. This song might be the best of the set. Everyone just looked like they were having fun, and really that’s all that matters. They ended their set with my favorite song, “Technicolour Beat.” Playing the opening melody on electric guitar instead of the bell synths was a good idea. That vocal skip in the background sounds like Elliot Moss' "Highspeeds." It was the perfect way to end an already stellar set.
I was hesitant about seeing Oh Wonder live: Would that be that electronic duo that looks emotionless with their playing? Would their music setup be so minimal that it drew away from the sheer talent of the music-making? Would they be too dancy with a minimal set-up (like the opening band)? No, none of the above. They were even better. They exemplified all the sheer talent it takes to make an indie-pop and R&B band sound and look great. Oh Wonder truly is piano pop that tugs at the teeny bopper heartstrings. Aside from that, the room was filled with kids excited to sing along and move with music. Not a single song went unsung by audience members. My advice for those seeing this show? Being earplugs (as you always should) and bring sunglasses.