When I first discovered The Oh Hellos, it was on the free music downloading website Noisetrade, a wellspring of the brand of indie folk that they played. When I finally saw them nearly four years later, they played in a small isolated punk/indie venue and I distinctly remember standing near a guy with gauges sporting a t-shirt for a local hardcore group. That was cool. The second time I saw them was a year later during their Christmas tour at a newly opened mid sized venue to a much larger audience that I admittedly wasn’t paying much attention to because I was too busy singing Christmas carols and spinning around in fake snow. SOOO when I walked into The Pageant last week to see them, I was taken aback by the demographics. Blonde hair. Perfect makeup. Men with the same perfectly coiffed and gelled haircut. A sizable representation of middle aged professionals. LOTS AND LOTS OF PLAID. I quickly felt the social anxiety start to set in. This wasn’t my crowd. I went to shows like this specifically to avoid these type of people (you know, normal people). Then the dreadful thought started to dawn on me. Oh no, did The Oh Hellos go mainstream? Shit.
Before I go on, I must give credit to Lowland Hum. I showed up just in time to catch the tail end of the set but was still immediately hooked. Wife and husband team Lauren and Daniel Goans played reserved but effecting “hush folk” and kept up a banter with each other and the audience that was deeply affable and adorable. In a genre dominated by groups like The Civil Wars, Us the Duo, She & Him, You + Me, and other Male Pronoun and Female Identifier themed groups, Lowland Hum felt so intimate and genuine to warrant future explorations of their discography.
Now, back to the matter at hand. Listen, I’m sorry if I sound like a judgmental asshole but it’s partly because I am a judgemental asshole. And this isn’t to say that I don’t enjoy popular music (I try to jam Demi atleast once a day). I suppose more than anything my reaction was fear of The Oh Hellos losing that indescribable quality that made them charming indie darlings. So, yes, The Oh Hellos feel bigger and grander than they ever have, (so much so sometimes I’d catch myself really searching for elements of their original sound). However they’re still that goofy folk outfit from Texas that knows how to balance the serious moments with silly ones. For instance, the short coordinated dance party at the start of their set was SOOO them. And that whimsy never let up as members stomped, twirled, and pranced around like mythical woodland creatures around a bonfire to their soundtrack of Gaelic tinged indie folk. The jubilation was set to 11 as they blew through old favorites and selections from their latest EPs, Notos and Eurus , the first two releases in a collection thematically centered around the four Greek winds. Occasionally, they would tone it down with more ambient and atmospheric songs, (a la Sufjan Stevens), including a reimagined rendition of “Eat You Alive”. These moments just emphasized their adeptness at holding the audience’s attention as they switched between different moods. The peak of these moments was the finale when the rest of the band left the stage to leave core members Maggie Heath Chance and Tyler Heath to perform a stripped down version of “I Have Made Mistakes”. In a packed and crowded Pageant every single person was enraptured and entranced by the sibling performers until the very last quietly echoing note disappeared in the air.
It wasn’t until later in the night that I realized the rise in popularity and explanation for the crowd is probably the fact that The Oh Hellos are TWO time tiny desk concert participants. So I guess my initial anxiety is all Bob Boilen’s fault (Mr. Boilen, please inform me where to send my therapy receipts). Fortunately, the infectious charisma and zeal of The Oh Hellos was more than enough to lift my spirits from the despondent position I started in. Also, I think the very same hardcore guy I saw at my first Oh Hellos show was there AGAIN standing in my vicinity, this time he was wearing a Household long sleeve. Rad.