Show Review: The Oh Hellos @ The Orange Peel

The Oh Hellos played The Orange Peel on April 15, 2016, photo by Mitch Bearden

The Oh Hellos played The Orange Peel on April 15, 2016, photo by Mitch Bearden

Listening to modern folk band The Oh Hellos’ current release, Dear Wormwood, I imagined the band to be a relaxed, inconspicuous presence on stage. I couldn’t have been more wrong. While breezy, earthy vocals take precedence over the instrumentals on most of The Oh Hellos’ recordings, the live performance shows off the complicated conglomeration of violin, banjo, guitar, bass, and two drum sets.

In the background of all of the excitement of the show was a large canvas, painted beautifully with a cabin surrounded by mountains and the name of the band hanging in the sky. It was a fitting visual depiction of The Oh Hellos: simple, authentic, and wild.

The Oh Hellos came onto the stage with about eight people, I think. They were all moving around so quickly it’s hard to really say. They played their music with the most joy I’ve ever seen in a band and it was utterly contagious. They were having as much fun as the audience, if not more. The violinist reminded me of the cricket spiders that I’ve encountered in my house this spring. Just jumping around for the sake of jumping around because that’s his job. The banjo player was barefoot, and the electric guitarist had an affinity for jumping from the stage to the speaker next to it.

Despite the large number of people on stage, The Oh Hellos consists of two core members: siblings Maggie and Tyler Heath. Tyler had been writing music and releasing albums on his own since 2007, when he and his sister collaborated to write a silly song for their mother’s birthday in 2011. They enjoyed working together so much that they decided to give more serious stuff a shot. Later that year, they released their first self-titled EP, containing “Hello My Old Heart,” which remains their most popular song ever, according to Spotify. They have been a truly independent band since their beginning, with no label pushing them in any direction or giving them any publicity. Their fame has social media and word of mouth to thank. The siblings tour with a rotation of friends who are available and willing.

While most of the set was taken from 2015’s Dear Wormwood, they played crowd favorite “Hello My Old Heart” only three songs in. They didn’t shy away from audience involvement, either. The audience acted as back-up vocals, and at one point, the band even threw out kazoos to make us a part of the performance. One of the guitarists joked that the idea for kazoos came when Maggie stumbled upon an Amazon listing advertising 500 kazoos for $5. They kept up a down-to-earth dialogue among each other and the audience, talking about where they went for dinner, and of course, how delightfully strange Asheville is.

Their sound and performance style are decidedly young, attracting mostly college students, but their lyrics reveal an experienced heart. Dear Wormwood was written as a concept album, drawing inspiration from the C.S. Lewis classic, The Screwtape Letters. If you are not familiar with the book, it is a fictionalized series of letters from a master “tempter” to his apprentice, Wormwood, advising him on how to handle the human who he has been assigned to tempt. The Oh Hellos’ album takes the perspective of the human speaking to Wormwood. The album explores what it means to leave a toxic relationship and focuses on a hopeful future.

The live performance of Dear Wormwood was not only fun, but soul-renewing, too. The Oh Hellos choose to look forward, and they did everything to encourage their Asheville audience to do the same.

Here is their performance for NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert series, recorded in December.