Oh Wonder never exactly intended to be the ones up there on stage.
“We had these really amazing plans to sit at home and eat loads of chocolate, loads of mashed potatoes and get really really fat and roll around writing songs,” joked Josephine Vander Gucht, one part of the alt-pop duo that is Oh Wonder, at the group’s Thursday night show at the Fox Theater. “We were going to be songwriters. And then we put our posts up on SoundCloud, and the world pulled us in a completely different direction.”
Vander Gucht and bandmate Anthony West were musicians floating around the London scene in different bands for 10 years before they met, started making music together and stumbled upon something bigger than themselves. They were stunned when their first song racked up more than 100,000 streams on SoundCloud.
Onstage in Oakland, the duo’s glossy synthesizers and ambrosial blend of harmonies dripped into the crowd’s ears just as impeccably as they do on its studio records. The show was sold out — the first on the tour for the band’s sophomore album Ultralife to do so — and Vander Gucht and West’s deeply humbled reactions felt authentic.
“We’re so, so, so grateful,” cooed Vander Gucht. This wasn’t Oh Wonder’s first time in the Bay Area — the duo has played the Rickshaw Stop and, more recently, Outside Lands. But Vander Gucht pointed out the huge multiplication in size from the tiny Rickshaw to the 2800-capacity Fox Theater.
“You’ve nearly multiplied by 1000 percent!” she pointed out. West challenged Vander Gucht on her math for a moment before ending the tiff with a declaration that this was why they were musicians, not mathematicians.
Despite the somewhat listless nature of the Oakland crowd — mostly 20-somethings bobbing heads absentmindedly to even the band’s most infectious tunes — it’s almost impossible to dislike Oh Wonder. They’re an adorable pair from across the pond, with their charming accents and modest ethos serving as the cherry on top of their polished pop sundae.
Their music is a finely tuned machine, with Vander Gucht and West’s perfectly matched voices never wavering even a centimeter from spotless harmony. They didn’t approach anything resembling rowdiness, but they still looked like they were having a blast. After “Lifetimes,” a midtempo bop driven by a “Bennie and the Jets”-esque piano backbone, Vander Gucht endeared the crowd with a giggly scream.
“This is nuts. I’m gonna cry!” she exclaimed.
“High On Humans,” one of Ultralife’s singles, moved her to skip around stage and dance with West after a canned robot voice rang through the theater, asking, “Oakland, are you ready?” Other high-energy highlights were “Technicolour Beat,” with rainbow lighting transforming the stage, and “Heart Strings,” for which Vander Gucht brought out her brother to play a cheeky saxophone solo.
Oh Wonder’s energy wasn’t always reflected back by the crowd, however. Before “Lose It,” a floaty finger-snapping number off the band’s self-titled debut album, West urged everyone to “lose it” with them. What ensued on the floor could hardly qualify as losing control, although that was probably due more to the delicate nature of the song — coming off as a soft proposal rather than an imperative to dance — than an actual sign of ambivalence from the crowd.
Oh Wonder was perhaps more mesmerizing during some of its quieter moments, such as “All We Do,” a contemplative piano ballad about dreaming. Vander Gucht introduced the song as a celebration of “finding what it is that makes you feel invincible … that gives you the courage to be what you wanna be and say what you wanna say.” She encouraged everyone else to follow their dreams, just like they did.
“(‘All We Do’ is) about finding that thing, whatever it is, and letting that thing pull you into this world that you’ve never imagined,” she explained.
The crowd hung onto every word that followed, singing back in hushed voices: “I’ve been upside down / I don’t wanna be the right way round / Can’t find paradise on the ground.”