Melbourne, Australia’s Oh Pep!, the duo of Olivia Hally and Pepita Emmerichs (Oh-livia and Pep-ita, get it?) get classified as folk-pop for lack of a better box to put them in, but their music belongs as much to the indie pop world as to the folk. In fact, listening to their debut album Stadium Cake, released in the US by Dualtone Records last month, and you might be hard-pressed to hear any folk music in the full, multi-layered (and frequently electronic) arrangements at all. Live, though, is a different story, as the duo strips the songs down to their bare bones with Hally’s vocals and acoustic guitar and Emmerichs’ mandolin and fiddle. Suddenly, the folk categorization makes more sense, even if it still seems reductive.
DC-area listeners got the chance to experience this firsthand several times recently. The band toured as the openers for fellow indie folk-rockers Lord Huron for a brief run of dates at the beginning of June including a stop at Wolf Trap, and then returned on their own last week to play a headlining show at Jammin’ Java. Yet despite the fact that the young duo has only recently begun making excursions to the US (their first tour in the States last fall took them to the Americana Music Festival in Nashville and CMJ in NYC, where they quickly drew attention), they already have dedicated fans in the area who came out to the show and knew every song.
The band opened the show with “Trouble Now” from the new record, and drew the majority of the setlist from it. Fortunately, the songs on the album are consistently strong across the board with no filler, and translate well to the acoustic format. Highlights of the set included the two songs that were released ahead of the album, “Bushwick” and “Doctor Doctor,” as well as the one non-album track of the planned set, a cover of Loudon Wainwright III’s “The Swimming Song.” When Hally and Emmerichs returned to the stage (without the drummer and bassist who had backed them through the main set) planning to play album closer “Afterwards” as an encore, they got a surprise – several people in the audience were so familiar with their work that they called out for “Boat Song,” a track from the band’s self-titled (and self-released, in Australia) first EP from 2012. Expressing their happiness that the audience would know (and want to hear) a song that was formative for them, they added it to the setlist before playing the planned encore.
DC-area indie pop band We Were Pirates and Seattle-based singer-songwriter Micah Subar opened the show.