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Live: YONAKA // O2 Academy, Oxford

Full of fire and spirit, there truly is something life-affirming about watching Yonaka live.

A Tuesday evening doesn’t tend to be what most people think of as the highlight of the week, but when you’ve got Yonaka playing on a Tuesday night, then that’s a completely story. Bringing their electrifying tunes and irresistible charisma to Oxford O2 Academy, the venue was barely able to hold the roof-raising energy that the band brought, with an equally responsive audience making sure that no one was leaving the venue without sweat dripping down their face and an unforgettable memory of the evening.

From the moment that the band walked out on stage for the charged-up Punch Bag, it was clear that this was a group of musicians who knew exactly how to work the audience and make the stage completely theirs. Front woman Theresa Jarvis strutted around the stage with a blazing confidence, and ordered the crowd, “Tonight, we forget anything else that’s going on in our lives and we live in this moment” to a resounding cheer. They certainly delivered on their end of making the statement true, as they made sure no one was standing still during the ferocious chorus of Awake, which got everyone jumping on their feet from the very start of the evening. Dancing around the stage to Lose Our Heads, the band was as captivating to watch as they were to listen to and command every ounce of your attention.

Getting everyone involved in a sing-along for Don’t Wait ’Til Tomorrow, they broke the fiery drive for a tender interlude, stripping back the instrumentals to just a keyboard accompaniment. Heart-wrenching vocals brought all of the emotion behind the track to the forefront, and the band proved their flexibility as musicians in being able to not only deliver the most rousing, spirited anthems, but also able to create profoundly intimate moments for everyone to share in and reflect upon. The band soon resumed their boisterous character as a mosh pit opened up for Bad Company and had everybody involved with their infectious presence.

We were treated to another touching moment with Guilty, which the band re-worked into a more stirring and wistful ballad as Theresa’s soaring vocals were accompanied by minimal instrumentals. Swaying along, there truly was a magic created at that moment as the crowd clung onto every word sung and every feeling delivered. Following Rockstar could not have created a bigger contrast in mood though, with everyone clapping along for this powerhouse of a track. Singing ‘I just want to be a rockstar baby’, it was definitely fair to say that Yonaka fulfils all the criteria to be the rockstars they were born to be.

Getting the whole crowd on their knees before exploding into a collective mass of moving bodies, it was clear that both the band and the audience were feeding off each other’s stamina. The final tracks Fired Up and F.W.T.B saw both parties giving everything they had, with Theresa getting right up to the barrier and in the crowd’s face, and guitarist George Edwards coming right into the core of the crowd and whipping up a pit around him without missing a single note.

As the band had set out at the beginning of the evening to get everyone to live in the moment, they certainly achieved this and more. There’s something incredibly life-affirming about watching the quartet generating stratospheric energy levels and completely losing themselves in the performance. Their live shows only show that they’ve truly become the rockstars they set out to be.

Photos: Athena Kam