Some may wonder, pardon the pun, how Oh Wonder, a duo whose original raison d’être was solely to write alt-pop songs for other artists as a side project, became so massively popular so ridiculously quickly. Well, trickle feeding what turns out to be your debut album one track at a time for a year is certainly a novel and attention-catching way of approaching the mechanics of the business.
But there are other, equally talented, male/female duo songwriters around (Cattle & Cane and Meadowlark spring quickly to mind), who are still playing small venues, not 2,500 audience-sized sold-out ones. Part of the answer at least appears to be that Oh Wonder knows the secret of putting on a show. Not that the others don’t. It’s just that Oh Wonder manages to appeal to everyone from those that are there to dance (a couple did their best to emulate Strictly Come Dancing in front of the writer for the last 15 minutes of the set) to the sort of audience that would attend a Royal Variety Performance at the London Palladium. The wide age range of the audience proved that.
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For those of a certain age they’re ever so slightly suggestive of a superior, less poppy 1980s duo Dollar, at least in their stage presentation.
Playing a set roughly split between their two albums the first thing that hits you about an Oh Wonder gig is the attention to detail. With the band name spelt out as OW behind them for much of the performance the light show itself was worth the entrance fee. Opening with ‘Dazzle’ from their eponymous debut album that is exactly what it, and they, did throughout an unrelentingly pacey 90 minute show.
Josephine Vander Gucht, who does most of the singing (frankly her voice is more convincing than Anthony West’s), has a silky voice that at times in the early songs, and especially ‘Without You’ and ‘Shark’, had all the hallmarks of that of Jillian Banks, who had graced the venue exactly a week before. If you’ll pardon another pun, she could be the Banks of England.
They can play their instruments too and Vander Gucht in particular excels on keyboards in some protracted bridges and climactic outros, such as on ‘Waste.’
Considering this is the Ultralife World Tour, named for their second album which was written in an airbnb and released in July this year, the title track didn’t appear until the encore. That’s a surprise because not everyone can stay the full length of a show and that song in particular has been credited by several critics with introducing Oh Wonder to a new audience. Anthemic, synth-heavy, celebratory and very danceable it was also the most melodic song of the night.
Collectively, Vander Gucht, West and their tight band of keyboardist/guitarist and drummer were able to create a giant Chill Factory and they have a chemistry that is only observable in the highest level of live performers. They have a sense of humour, too, cracking jokes comparing Birmingham with its namesake in Alabama, returning for the encore dressed in Superman/woman costumes and, well make what you will of the set list, below. The actual titles of songs seven and 12 are ‘High on Humans’ and ‘All we do’!
Sigrid, small in stature but huge in the vocal department, is one of a battalion of top-drawer artists and bands to have emerged out of Norway in recent years. Despite her being the support act the venue was more than two-thirds full when she took the stage, she seemed already to have 1000 fans and gained another 1000 as a result of her performance; something she found hard to take in.
She’s a sort of paler Ariana Grande in the way she commands the stage. She has it all: the voice, the moves, the energy, and the sheer chutzpah of the Heroes of Telemark. And an endearing slug of humility to boot. The whole nine yards in fact.
Her hit single ‘Don’t Kill My Vibe’ was possibly the best song played all night, certainly the most dramatic, and that’s some claim when Oh Wonder is the headliner. At the tender age of 21 she will perform at the Nobel Peace Prize Ceremony in December, just about the highest honour for an artist that there is in Norway, and emulating her equally youthful and loveable compatriot Aurora. Like her, she is definitely destined for big things.