The London-based duo Oh Wonder, comprised of Josephine Vander Gucht and Anthony West, made the smart decision to perform in New Haven this past Saturday, Sept. 23, in what was the electro-indie-alt-pop group’s first solo show in Connecticut. A crowd of high-schoolers, college students and adults packed College Street Music Hall wall to wall, a diverse crowd drawn in by a unifying sound.
“We have a New Haven back in England,” Gucht said, her voice comforting and soft.
“Yeah, and theirs is better,” joked West. Their on-stage connection matched the chemistry that fans heard in every song.
Before Gucht or West first graced the stage, Jaymes Young opened the night. Young, a West Coast singer-songwriter, paired his unrefined voice with tragic lyrics over his guitar’s deeply moving strums. The night began with a somber tone well received by the swaying and teary crowd. Young ended his set with “Stoned On You,” a high-energy song about an intoxicating love. Overall, his organic and elemental voice exuded an emotion more forthright than the mellow voices to follow.
At the rear of the stage, flashing lights forming an “O” and “W” began to flicker as static buzzed over the speakers. Oh Wonder pranced into the spotlight, accompanied by their band. This starkly contrasted with their previous tour, which was a more intimate arrangement with just the duo and their instruments.
They opened with the invigorating “High On Humans,” taking the nervous energy of the crowd and turning it into a flash of dance and song. Gucht stood behind the keyboard, West on his guitar, but they didn’t let the instruments stop their dancing. Gucht regularly grazed the hands of the crowd and twirled around the band. The crowd stood mesmerized as she moved in unison with the lights behind her.
They played through a mix of songs from their first record, “Oh Wonder,” and their recent release, “Ultralife,” which topped No. 8 on the U.K. Albums Chart this year. Regardless of the song, regardless of the album, the crowd knew when to sing along and when to listen, when to dance and when to stare up at the stage, infatuated. It is hard not to fall in love with Gucht and West.
The two began writing their album “Ultralife” (not to be confused with the titular song) in April 2016 in a Brooklyn, New York, Airbnb. After a month, they continued the process while touring the United States before finishing up back home in England. Their music is effortlessly personal and comforting. The entire process of creating their record was personal: written, recorded, produced and mixed by just the two, alone in a studio.
“Who here has a dream? Anybody?” Gucht asked. Only about half the room lifted their hand. “Well, don’t worry, you don’t have to have one. It’s not a requirement,” she said, stifling a giggle. “If there is anything you want to do, anyone you want to be, anyplace you want to see — listen to your heart and go. Make your own rules along the way. This song is about having faith in yourself.” The crowd was enveloped in the warmth of her voice as she began to sing “Livewire.”
It began as a reflective, thoughtful song but melted into upbeat bass-heavy music. Over this new bass-line, West graced the audience with his voice, welcoming the next song. He asked the sea of fans to join the band in singing “Lose It,” appropriately asking them to “lose it with us.” As the song began to pick up, the crowd’s energy certainly answered West’s call. It was a surreal moment for fans, who jumped in unison and sang every word.
The night was characterized by the particular moments and emotions each song created; new twists were popped in throughout the set. The assortment of new and old songs kept fans on their toes and the standing-room-only venue kept them on their feet. Gucht’s brother Will joined them on stage for a saxophone solo during “Heart Strings.” “What a legend,” Gucht said as her brother left the stage. The crowd agreed.
Gucht and West thanked the crowd for a wonderful night and announced their final song: “Technicolor Beat.” As the beat began to taper, the bright white set lights did too. The group disappeared and the once-bright “O” and “W” pulsed a faint white, until it faded finally to darkness.
Following the anticipated call for an encore, they reappeared to what were the brightest stage lights yet: A rainbow of light illuminated the enthralled audience. Gucht and West jumped right into the bop “Ultralife.”
This encore was representative of their albums and the transition between the two. Their first album was an experiment; the couple released a new song every month for a year, culminating in their first studio album, “Oh Wonder.” The second album was different. The two spent a year writing, joined this time by a band, and produced a colorful, high-energy record: “Ultralife.”
Oh Wonder caters to no one in particular. It is clear they make music as it should be — for themselves, as it is the manifestation of their experiences and their memory. This honesty creates a sound so many connect with; young adults and teenagers alike closed their eyes and lifted their arms as Oh Wonder softly ended the night with “Drive” —
“Loving you, loving you; All I do, all I do; Loving you, loving you.”
Dustin Dunaway | firstname.lastname@example.org