Getting high on humans with Oh Wonder

Oh Wonder at Malkin Bowl 9/6/17

Photo courtesy of Live Nation
Photo courtesy of Live Nation

A blood-red full moon eerily floated in the smog-filled sky. The chilled air was a grim reminder of summer’s imminent ending. However, on the eve of Wednesday (Sept 6), Oh Wonder fans escaped into a reality of their own at the Malkin Bowl in Stanley Park.

The London-based indie-pop duo released their second album, Ultralife, in June; it consisted of songs revolving around the idea of finding one’s “ultra”- that someone or something that makes you embrace life with open arms during tough times. Surrounded by hundreds of trees in the middle of a massive forest in one of the most beautiful cities in the world, the band could not have chosen a more appropriate place to kick off their Ultralife Tour.

The sold-out show was initiated by the very talented Jaymes Young’s chill electronic beats. The singer’s soft voice allowed the concert-dwellers to revel in their own reveries, with songs like “Stoned on You” and “Feel Something” sending couples into a snuggling frenzy.

By the time Anthony West and Josephine Vander Gucht made their appearance, the venue had turned pitch-black. Twinkling successions of lights moved across the stage, formulating the letters “OW” as piano keys pierced the silent sky with the melody for “Waste”. As the crescendo approached, the stage completely lit up in white, and the harmonizing couple’s voices echoed through the trees. This slow tune was contrasted by the upbeat yet poignant “Without You” from their self-titled first album, which ignited their fame when they started releasing one song a month for a year on SoundCloud. They devised a technique in which Josephine sings in the centre and Anthony sings twice, once in the left ear and once in the right, blending in with the background. So, when Anthony sang his solo verse in “Lifetimes” with his impeccably comforting tone, excited exclamations erupted from the crowd. He then addressed them with a distinctive English accent, “We made it Vancouver, how we feeling?”, to which Josephine added “how you guys doing? This is insane!”.  Josephine introduced the other two band members, George and Eve and explained that they had never performed in front of such a large crowd: “Vancouver, you’ve given me chills!”.

These chills were passed on to the awe-struck audience as the slow, tear-jerking piano chords for “All We Do” from Oh Wonder resounded in the summer air. This song emphasizes the importance of never giving up, and making your own rules for your life instead of depending on everyone else’s perspective. Josephine giggled after the audience sang along with the chorus, her elation creating ripples of joy in the blue atmosphere.  The cheerful “Landslide” and “Heavy” were a welcome relief, cheers of gratitude and excitement roaring from the thousands of spectators as the mood changed. Josephine stated that they wanted to start their 4-month tour in Vancouver because it’s “one of their favourite cities”, and they had been running around Stanley Park earlier. Anthony acquiesced, “You guys got it good”.

The couple moved closer together as they recited “Midnight Moon”, one of their earliest recorded songs from Oh Wonder. The full moon peered over Stanley Park, serving as a reminder that “we are all animals out in the dark”. The pair’s bright outfits created a sharp contrast to the darkening heavens. Josephine wore a fuchsia patterned dress while Anthony’s donned a metallic black patterned shirt; apparently, wearing bright coloured clothes while on tour allows them to feel happier since they are sleep-deprived. Indeed, their joyous mood was reflected by their euphoric smiles, infecting the audience with an energy that can only be described as “ultra”.

So, when the stage was flooded in red strobe lights and a digitized voice monotonously asked “Vancouver, are you ready?”, the entire forest could hear ecstatic screams from the Vancouverites as percussions vibrated through their bones. “High on Humans” from Ultralife was inspired by Josephine’s connection with a stranger on the tube, and it encapsulates this energetic feeling with its short rhymes and fast electronic beats.

In addition, the kaleidoscope of hues traversing through the stage during “Technicolor Beat”, allowed those admiring it to “feel life for the very first time”, except this new life was teeming with colour and delight. When “Ultralife” finally came on, one could sense the listeners had been transformed- they finally understood the meaning behind this tune.

The sincerity of the humble duo, yet unaffected by their growing fame, is reflected in their music, which evokes a sense of unity with other human beings. This, as Oh Wonder accentuates, is the kind of high that lasts forever.