IN PHOTOS: Oh Wonder's first solo concert in Manila
MANILA, Philippines – Every so often a concert comes along that makes you see why you love going to concerts in the first place. Often, you battle long lines, unruly crowds, full parking lots, unorganized productions or outdoor venues with steamy temperatures and unpredictable weather – for what? Basically, musicians onstage, seemingly just going through the motions, just another day in their lives. It can be a huge letdown when a band you admire performs in a sub-par fashion, almost robotic at times.
That was far from the case with Oh Wonder, an alt-pop duo hailing from London consisting of Josephine Vander Gucht and Anthony West. They were accompanied by Yves Fernandez on bass and George Lindsay keeping the beat on drums.
This was more of what a concert should be. The atmosphere was charged. It’s difficult to describe with words. Like electricity, you can’t see it, but you know it’s there when it zaps you – a type of love in the air, I suppose. It’s what every concert-goer is seeking, a mecca of sorts, a non-physical bond between the artist and the fans themselves. The connection was palpable at the SM Aura Samsung Hall on July 21, and the sold out crowd was loving it. The folks in attendance had such an emotional attachment to the music that it manifested itself in a joyous fashion, like no other experience in the world.
“I just wanted to say a sincere... I can’t even really say, because I’m speechless... but Manila I can tell that each and every one of you are with us in this room giving us your love," Josephine said. "And we see it and we feel it…I’m so grateful to all you guys and we feel so blessed to have you support us in the Philippines, so thank you!”
Oftentimes, a performer announces to the crowd with a pre-scripted ubiquitous line, “We love you, (insert current city here)!" I’ve even experienced an artist embarrassingly saying the wrong city, the town they performed in the previous night, so it basically comes down to lip service.
That wasn't the case here. When Josephine told the crowd, “I think this is the best show we ever played!” and Anthony followed with, “This is the best show we’ve ever played,” they really meant it. Sincerity is one of those things you cannot fake, people see right through it. Insincere words hold about as much weight as a wet paper bag. Actions speak louder than words, and it was obvious that they were having a spectacular time onstage and that they really meant the words they were saying and singing. The crowd responded in spades.
At one point, they perfectly timed the tossing of dozens of paper airplanes towards the stage, each containing a thoughtful hand written message for the band. When the song ended and Josephine picked one up off the floor. It was obvious she was touched, saying “Oh my gosh, I’m gonna cry and we’re only like, 3 songs into this.”
Even after the concert was over and there was no huge crowd within earshot, Josephine came off the stage emotionally charged heading to the backstage area exclaiming to the crew and her bandmates, reiterating that it was really the best show they have ever had.
I photographed them at their last performance here, and I can tell you without a doubt they have improved. Musically it was quite similar, a solid performance on both occasions. However this time around there was a noticeable difference in their stage presence. Practice makes perfect. They’ve been touring for a couple of years now.
This time, they had a bit more pop and pizzazz, with an increased confidence in their steps and movements. The lighting was decent with their signature enormous LED letters “OW” glowing in the backdrop.
The list of songs flowed smoothly, and during their encore they even added a track which was not on the pre-determined setlist. When a band inserts a number like this, it’s a sure sign of appreciation for the attendees and an indication of the group's stage skills.
They performed a solid mix of material from their new album and songs from their debut album, which is an interesting story in itself. Beginning in September 2014, they set out to write, record, and release one song a month for a year, culminating in their eponymous debut album. They ended up building a huge following in a grassroots fashion, so their fans are dedicated, to say the least.
They recently released their second album, Ultralife, and I chuckled at Anthony’s response to Josephine’s comment when she told the crowd, “We just released an album last week."
“And somehow you already know all the words,” Anthony quipped.
These two performers have a special connection indeed, and it shows. Periodically, you could see them glance at each other and intuitively understand what the other was thinking.
It was a performance you’d expect from siblings playing in a band, with a non-verbal communication cultivated from growing up together. There really is no distinguishable lead vocalist. They sing in unison, remarkably coming across as one. They had a keyboard driven sound with more of a slow groove R&B vibe to it. No mosh pits here. Nuances within Josephine’s hypnotic wispy vocals and Anthony’s soothing harmonies were not overlooked by the attentive audience.
“When Anthony and I started this band we just wanted it to be like a writing project and stay at home and write songs and eat food. We never expected to tour, so the fact that we are here on the other side of the world for two and a half thousand wonderful people is truly amazing,” Josephine explained.
Opening the show were two solo performances by singer/songwriters, Clara Benin and Reese Lansangan, who started out the night strong. They're super-talents in the OPM scene right now.
Anthony and Josephine both performed on keyboards. Photographically speaking, musicians on these instruments aren’t the most exciting to cover, but they made up for it and executed with gusto and fervor. Anthony also performed on the guitar, which provided a respite from the keyboard. On a few occasions, he would burst out jamming on the instrument in an emotional fashion.
You could actually feel the elation in the performance itself, the smiles on everyone faces, on and off the stage.
Josephine came out from behind the keyboards also, dancing in the silhouette of the backlit stage with jubilance in her movements, seemingly floating an inch or two above the stage.
Also, on a few occasions she came out with microphone in hand and stepped on top of speakers at the edge of the stage to physically connect with the audience.
Before singing “All We Do,” Josephine shared some inspirational words with the fans: “This next song is about the importance of not ever giving up. If you guys have anything you want to achieve, a massive dream or tiny plans you want to hatch, don’t listen to anybody else. Listen to yourself. Believe in yourself and you will go far. Because the world is infinite and it will look after you.”
Match that emotionally charged performance with a nearly flawless execution of the music itself, and you have a memorable concert experience. Not that it would have mattered at all, but I don’t think I heard any. With the outstanding acoustics of this venue, arguably one of the best in the Philippines outside of the casino based theaters, the crowd didn’t really seem to mind being packed like sardines on the main floor.
The dynamic atmosphere was really was something to experience, textbook stuff as far as concerts go. If you missed them don’t fret – I’m almost certain that they’ll return. Keep an eye on their schedule. It’s a performance that shouldn’t be missed and will most likely leave you wanting more. – Rappler.com
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