Wisp whisks listeners through meditation and metal

Published June 2, 2024, 9:01 p.m., last updated June 2, 2024, 9:01 p.m.

This article is a review and includes subjective opinions, thoughts and critiques.

The hum of the crowd rose to enthusiastic cheering as 19-year-old shoegaze artist Wisp stepped onto the stage of The Independent in San Francisco on May 22. With a gray zip-up hoodie layered over a black dress and white calf-high socks snug in black loafers, the singer looked comfortable and at home during her first show in her hometown, featuring her latest single, “Pandora.” 

A wunderkind in her own right, Wisp’s career is steadily growing. Having just released her debut EP “Pandora” this April, which has been dubbed “the most audacious shoegaze release of 2024” by UPROXX, she’s come a long way from releasing her first single “Your face” in April of last year. 

Wisp began the show with a performance of “Pandora,” a song characterized by dynamic instrumentals that reflected themes of twisted love, with lines like “I’d bleed for you / If you held me close” and “So, I’ll grow flowers / Beneath my lungs / And my wounds / Have opened / To all / Of you.” She opened the song with her breathy vocals, paired with a backing track that evoked a dreamlike state in the listener with its almost white-noise quality. The musician then pulled her trademark transition from meditative music to metal. 

I was initially surprised by the contrast between Wisp’s soft, dreamy vocals and the heavy metal drums and guitar. But I soon came to hear how the two expertly blended together, creating a unique sound that appealed to her audience of teens and young adults. The softcore and edgy elements of the artist’s outfit similarly represented the marriage of bedroom pop and metal that defined her music. 

Seeing Wisp’s bleached, color-faded hair and outfit reminded me of what I wore to my first-ever concert (although I didn’t have the slightly bleached hair then, I do now!). As a young Asian American woman, it was validating to see someone from a similar background on stage. Watching Wisp almost felt like watching another version of me in another world, especially as someone who did not see as many Asian American performers when I was growing up. 

As if I wasn’t already emotional enough, the lyrics to “Pandora” in concert gave way to thoughts swirling in my mind and feelings I couldn’t give rise to. The lyrics tell a story of unrequited feelings from a devotee desperate to attain another’s love. Hearing them sung aloud felt personal, like the room had suddenly grown smaller and Wisp was in front of me alone. Heart full of words I could not say, I was enraptured by Wisp’s presence as I watched her command the stage.

The performance featured the quick changes between darkness and light, with rapidly flashing spotlights throughout the show. While the atmosphere contributed to the artist’s style, it also felt a bit over-stimulating at times. 

Even when the lights and sounds grew to be too much, Wisp’s lyricism made the overall experience enjoyable. Her lyrics read like poetry I would savor in my dorm room on a Saturday evening at 2 a.m. as I lie awake in bed, pondering what it means to be alive and what it means to simply just be. The way she strings words together evokes feelings I’ve strongly associated with my teenage years — indecision, heartbreak and grasping for the unknown.

Wisp directly addressed the crowd as she seamlessly switched guitars and adjusted equipment amid shouts of excitement throughout the show. The musician made conversation, asking her fans where they came from to see her perform, and was impressed to learn that some had traveled from as far as Sacramento. She also shared that her family was present to watch her for her first hometown show.

The artist took the time to shout out the crew she was sharing the stage with that night and had been on the road with since mid-April, which was then met with loud cheers and booming applause. Though soft-spoken, she didn’t need a booming voice to capture the crowd’s attention — they hung on to her every word.

Many audience members had their phones out to record Wisp’s memorable closing number, entranced with the artist and each other. Couples swayed along to the music and lovingly embraced as Wisp’s soft, melodic voice filled the room. That warmth — both emotional and physical, given the small and intimate size of the venue – was something I will never forget.

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