Admit it. When you found out that the folk-pop band Wardell featured the offspring of Steven Spielberg, it made you want to do one of two things: Roll your eyes in skepticism of their talent or open your ears to hear if the Los Angeles brother-sister duo, in fact, had talent—and not just a famous surname. So what’s the verdict? With their brief yet enthusiastic show at the Mercury Lounge on Friday, Wardell proved that the Spielberg dynasty isn’t limited to the silver screen.
Their set featured songs from their 4-track EP Brother/Sister, which was released last month via the London label National Anthem. For “Eli,” the slushy pop bruiser, Sasha Spielberg, the songstress of the group, whipped out mushy vocals that cruised above her bro Theo’s smooth guitar triads and the timely toots scattered in the hook. Confirming the band’s evocation of California dreams coiled in carefree, beach-filled summers, a gratuitous stream of “ohhhs” and “wooos” filled each song, including the twinkling pop cowboy-buzzed, “Opossum,” which was pleasant-sounding, but slightly maddening with all the undue chirping.
Blending wistful melodies and guitar clusters with vintage-sounding gushy pop, Wardell evoked memories of T-birds jackets, poodle skirts and old-fashioned jukeboxes, and that was perhaps the band’s allure. While derivative, their misty sound was altogether charming in songs like the twinkly “Call It What You Want” and the slower-paced retro song, “Uptown Era” which had Sasha belting out a bluesy, pop ballad that bustled with soul. The song’s sappy spurts were fitting for a ‘60s prom, and the nostalgia it induced became more evident when the crowd swayed to its sentimental strains. “I can smoke and dance/You can be happy for me,” Sasha crooned. As she sang, she matched the audience’s rocking with animated facial expressions and cutesy hand motions that mimicked her own shiny pop vocals. Theo, a multi-instrumentalist, got his time in the spotlight too, with his ear-buzzing strings, which were delivered wonderfully in songs like “Eli” and “Opossum.”
Toward the very end of the show, the audience cheered joyfully, hoping for an encore after Wardell performed their last song. But the duo walked off the stage like a hasty employee waiting to clock-out from a long workday (It was a Friday night after all). But just when the crowd thought it was the end, Sasha returned to the stage and jokingly asked, “Want us to play ‘Free Bird’?” Fans shouted positively in hopes that the other band members would join her on stage and play one more song, but she simply walked off the stage again, leaving audience members hanging from an illusory high five.