Review: Jakob Ogawa at Songbyrd


Saturday, August 10 was a night of firsts for Jakob Ogawa and his crew. It was his first night in our nation’s capital on his first U.S. tour. It was his first time playing a show at Songbyrd and, for his drummer, the first time playing on a brand new, shiny blue kit - assembled right before doors during sound check, no less. Having come from Brooklyn that day and from his native Norway the day before that - only to be immediately swept up in a barrage of new experiences - one may assume that the 22 year old would be flustered and exhausted during the show.


Make no mistake, though; this was not Jakob Ogawa’s first rodeo. Ogawa writes versatile music. His songs can be equally appreciated whether playing out of the PA at a club or in your headphones during your morning commute. As a result of our world’s undying obsession with categorizing things, many have dubbed his music “bedroom pop” or “indie” but, while these classifications may be somewhat apt, they are simultaneously lazy and do not give Ogawa’s music the nuance it deserves. Featuring jazzy, extended chords, grooving basslines, and the warmth of vintage synth textures, Ogawa is in his own lane not only because of the sonic aesthetic of his music, but also with regard to the caliber of his performance.

While some other artists similarly thrown in to the “bedroom pop” category may not possess quite enough charisma to make their extremely-chill music captivate a crowd and fill a room, Ogawa has personality in spades and a talented band, with whom he has great chemistry, to boot. Between songs, he effortlessly interacted with the room and made his fascination with all of his new experiences tangible, stating that D.C. was “beautiful,” that “it looks like a TV show,” and asking the crowd whether or not they like living in the United States to mixed reactions.


Even if he were not so engaging, you get the sense that Ogawa’s fervent and growing fanbase would have stood at attention regardless of what was happening on stage. More importantly, Ogawa and his band were electric during songs. On some, he played guitar while singing. On others, when his additional guitar was not needed, he expressively sang to the crowd, periodically throwing in dance moves that immediately made the crowd swoon.


Given that Ogawa does not yet have a proper debut album, his set was impressively long butcharming throughout. In Songbyrd’s main showroom, colloquially known as the Byrd’s Nest, the band powered through the songs that led Ogawa to the present moment. These same songs, which have racked up millions of plays on the streaming platforms where many in the crowd probably discovered and subsequently fell in love with Ogawa, carry a different power when witnessed live. From the shimmering Rhodes piano, aqueous guitar lines, and Ogawa’s delicate but endearing vocals, their set filled the Byrd’s Nest with the kind of warmth you want to experience from live music. Towards the beginning, they played their newest single, “All I Wanna Do” to ensure that the crowd was paying attention. Towards the end, they played the popular and pensive cut “Let It Pass” to a crowd whose dominant mood sat squarely between “grooving” and “crying.” In the middle they played a crowd-pleasing version of Outkast’s “Hey Ya” in a style that you will likely never hear it -- unless you go see Ogawa live, that is.

Ogawa rounded out the night with “You Might Be Sleeping,” his collaboration with fellow budding-pop-star Clairo. While Clairo was unfortunately, yet understandably, not in attendance (she is on tour with Khalid), the song ended the night on a warm note. One thing is for sure, though: no one in the room was the slightest bit drowsy. Everyone in the room remained enchanted up until the very last beat of “You Might Be Sleeping.”

Review by Matthew Hirsch | Photos by Meredith Wohl