“You thought we were zigging but actually we were zagging” said one of The Oh Hellos’ guitar players as they stormed through their large, dynamic set. With three albums under their belt, the guitarist was referring to the band’s constant and seamless blend or “zagging” from song to song, leaving little time for prolonged applause. The Oh Hellos, comprised of Texas-born siblings Tyler and Maggie Heath, were joined by seven of their band members in Manchester to make what Tyler described as the “circus on stage”.
After being pushed and squeezed into different genres, The Oh Hellos have sometimes been referred to as a folk-rock band, a description which may seem odd through their often soft and ethereal sound. Yet, as the “circus” was set loose on stage, the stomping rock of both drummers pulsated through the trendy Northern Quarter venue Band on the Wall.
Firstly, the support act was a four-piece Americana band from Essex called Carousel. Reminding me of The Lone Bellow, you could tell that all four were well accomplished musicians in their own right. Going from slow and melodic tracks to more upbeat folk pop left the slowly increasing crowd on their toes. With band member Thomas Eatherton selling merch and chatting to people before and after the gig, there was definitely a humble, interactive nature to Carousel. Significant points were Sarah Holburn’s vocals in her beautifully written song ‘Porcelain’ and the chilling harmonies at the end of ‘Comfortable Skin’. Carousel are a band to definitely look out for in the near future.
The Oh Hellos then came out and began their set with a bang with tracks from their first album Through the Deep, Dark Valley such as ‘I Was Wrong’ and straight into the stomping beat of ‘Valley – Reprise’. The band involved a myriad of personalities with the talkative guitarist who came into the crowd, the other guitarist who seemed immersed in the music and faced the crowd only about twice as well as the most energy-fuelled violinist I have ever seen. The band’s confidence helped to shroud what seemed like nerves from the siblings as they remained relatively quiet throughout the night.
However, slowing down into the melodic ballad of ‘Like the Dawn’, Maggie’s singing voice shone through as her enchanting tone matched the lyrics perfectly. This quality pushed through into the live rendition of ‘Wishing Well’, creating an ambience of fairy-tale storytelling. This was until the crescendo at the final chorus of “Oh, I stole from my father” as the band flipped the song from soft ballad to stomping folk-rock.
The crowd were then treated to the fast-paced new track ‘Torches’ which filled the small venue with a babel of music, movement and madness especially from the band’s infamous violinist Matt Hagerman. He lifted the crowd out of their earlier dream state from Maggie’s haunting voice through his the untameable energy.
The set seemed generally chronological as the siblings swiftly moved onto their title song from their second album Dear Wormwood, which similarly followed the gig’s theme of starting slow and quickly building as the repeating chorus of “I know who you are now” pulsated through the crowd.
One of their most popular songs ‘Hello My Old Heart’, which appeared all the way back in their debut EP in 2011, was left as the crowd-pleasing finale and left everyone singing around the room. The stomp and holler sound of the music was copied by the audience as they eagerly waited for an encore. The siblings then came back out on their own saying they were going to “slow things down a bit”. They finished on ‘I Have Made Mistakes”, a melancholic song that encapsulates the theme of regret from their first album. Therefore, the crowd were able to experience a warm fuzz from the brother and sister’s traditional folk sound as well as the electric atmosphere of their travelling circus.By Max Haydon