I’ve been listening to The Oh Hellos for almost two years now. Thanks to the wondrous power of the internet, I stumbled upon their first album, Through the Deep, Dark Valley, on NoiseTrade, a site that aims to promote artists by offering up free music with a recommended donation. I was quickly made a fan after listening to the record.
Fast forward a couple of years and finally, The Oh Hellos had lined up an all-ages spectacle in Portland. What’s more: One of my favorite local artists, another NoiseTrade discovery, Joseph were set to open the show.
I expected a fairly small crowd at the Wonder Ballroom. I wasn’t sure how many people knew of The Oh Hellos' music, and I figured the gig would be far from sold out. Upon arrival, I was surprised to see that the show might in fact reach capacity, and by the time Joseph took the stage, the crowd grew larger than I’d ever expected. Like many local artists, it’s rare to see an all-ages performance, and most of the shows the band had previously played were at bars and smaller 21-plus venues around the Pacific Northwest so I was happy to finally get to see Joseph live.
Along with music off their album Native Dreamer Kin, the trio of sisters also serenaded the Portland crowd with a cover of Sylvan Esso’s “Hey Mami,” as well as some new music expected to be released in the future. What makes Joseph so awe-inspiring live is the seamless blending of their voices, gently placed atop acoustic guitar and a steady drumbeat. It’s minimalistic, but fills up the room nonetheless.
I wasn’t sure what to expect from The Oh Hellos live. Listening to them, you get a glimpse of the energy behind the music, but what I take away most from their recordings is an essence of folk rock, similar to Mumford & Sons or Noah and the Whale. Their live performance could be a wild card, but from what I heard listening to the conversations of previous Oh Hellos showgoers was one thing: The live show does not disappoint.
I never expected what came out on stage. Sometimes it even came off stage. The Oh Hellos brought an unparalleled force to their live performance, taking their upbeat folk rock to 11 and pouring out pure energy.
Save for sibling leaders Tyler and Maggie Heath, the rest of the ensemble pranced around the stage, adding a bit of headbanging to fiddle shrills and banjo strums. With so many people and so much happening on one stage, you felt like at some point everything would crash and burn. But, as it turned out, the whole night just kept going up, up, up.
The energy came to a high during the last song, “The Valley (Reprise).” Standing in the front row, I was asked a simple question before the song was played: “Can you help clear this area? We’re gonna put the drums there.”
As a few of us began to form a clearing in the crowd, the drum set was placed right on the floor in the center of the circle. Both the drummer and the banjo player came down to us, and then as the band onstage poured every emotion into the song, the drums were torn apart as they were slammed to every beat, splinters of wood flying. You could see the reaction from people around us, trying to avoid being hit in the face by an escaped drumstick. The banjo was played like an electric guitar in a heavy metal song, the man behind it stumbling into the pit and slamming into people. Without the sounds of folk rock, you would’ve thought you were at a metal show.
If there’s one word we could boil down the performance to, it’s this: insane. Everything about the show—the energy, the music, the sweat, the crowd—it was all over the top in the best way possible. Never did I expect that to come out of those folk rockers. But I’m glad it did.