Sofar Sounds New York City: Upper West Side 3/7/16

Review and photographs by Parisa Mahdad


Most young New Yorkers overlook the Upper West Side. It’s safe. It’s quiet. Streets are manicured and unlittered. There is most certainly character, but it doesn’t offer the struggle that so many young people throw themselves into when they decide to live in the urban landscape of New York City.

However, everyone- regardless of their tolerance for grit- needs a taste of home every once in a while to get through the subway commute the next morning.

Monday night offered just that. Squeezed into a penthouse apartment along Central Park West and 101st Street, forty people sat on the wooden floor and a couple of couches with two cats weaving through the grocery bags filled with Stella Artois and boxes of cupcakes. The space belonged to Molly, a 50-something year old woman whose youthful spirit was evident in her willingness to invite 40 strangers into her home to share the common appreciation for local music.

Local listeners gather round the living room rug of an Upper West Side apartment. 

Local listeners gather round the living room rug of an Upper West Side apartment. 

We were Molly’s children for the night. It’s as if she took us in to slap us out of our Monday ennui. It was easy to feel at home, enveloped by the pink walls, the white drapes, the bookcase filled with books on impressionism, and the paintings and trinkets gathered along her travels far far away. She’s the kind of sophisticated woman New York breeds so well- wise, cultured, and incredibly hip through years of experience that radiate through subtle smiles of appreciation and steadfast composure- not too cold, never too eager.

Molly leaned against the doorway of the kitchen as three local musical acts took to her living room rug to perform for laid back listeners ready to shake off the start of the week.

This was an alumni evening for Sofar Sounds. The three acts had performed for a Sofar showcase at least once prior. Sofar Sounds is the brainchild of Rafe Offer and Rocky Start, two friends from North London who were tired of seeing musicians play in bars where no one was listening. They began organizing small shows in their friend’s apartment with a couple of musicians they knew. Since its inception in 2010, Sofar Sounds has grown by bringing live music to intimate spaces in over 200 cities around the world and is run mostly by volunteers.

The Caverns started out the evening. Normally a trio, the bassist and the guitarist, both named Nick, held court and played electric without the mics. They were a modern take on psychedelic rock; the guitarist’s vocals as fluid and lingering as his long blonde locks and free flowing presence. Throughout the band’s four song set, the guitarist held his vocals strong through the electrics without losing the integrity of his soft vocal style.

The Caverns opened up the alumni evening.

The Caverns opened up the alumni evening.

The band’s second song, Phantom, really highlighted this band’s strengths- the guitarist’s signature falsetto and his psychedelic riffs that weaved in and out of the song. What was even more striking was the presence of the bass and its ability to carry the song. Whereas so many bassists fall complacent to predictable bass lines, the bass had a range, a melody even, that served as the centerpiece and foundation for the song- guitar frills embellishing the song instead of acting as rhythm or the centerpiece of instrumentation.

Ghosts also highlighted the range and presence of the bass. Both Nicks harmonized together, ironically the bassist singing high and the guitarist straying from his falsetto tendencies to sing the low part. Lyrics such as “It’s a heavy ass breakdown” were sung to high vocals and instrumentation, continuing the unmistakably clever contrasts of this song. 

The band’s final song, 10 Feet Tall, ended their set with a glimpse of the energy the band brings at larger, full band shows. The guitarist stood up from his post on top of his amp for the first time of the evening. The band let loose for this final song, not hesitating to scream some of the lyrics and add a few improvisational “woos” between verses and chorus. Funk inspired interludes did not undermine the psychedelic rock integrity of the band nor did the melodic pre-choruses dull the guitarist’s falsettos. These components only added depth all while the band rocked out to lyrics, “Walk to the supermarket/ I pay at the register/ And now I’m undressing her.”

Daniel Feels was the only solo performer of the night.  Feels’ choice in T-shirt, which read “Leonard Cohen Songs of Love and Hate,” was an appropriate foreshadowing to the artist’s set list which oscillated between sensual love songs and more heated lyrics conveying painful yearning and struggle.

Though his sound would be more complete in the context of a full electric band, which joins him at larger venues, Feels has mastered the art of catchy melodies and well formed lyrics.

His third song, Lolita, served as a complement to Feels’ more romantic tunes offering inner struggle and darker underpinnings with a chorus that reads “Lolita you will be the end of me/I’ve waited so long what’s a little bit now/ Pull out my gun, and I walk through the door.”

Daniel Feels was the only solo performer of the night.

Daniel Feels was the only solo performer of the night.

Naturally personable, “This song’s called tuning,” he’d quip between songs. Feels even asked for crowd participation at one point in his set and was successful- not an easy feat in a room of young New Yorkers.

Feels closed his set with Behave which showcased all of Feels’ signature elements- soulful voice, moments in falsetto, catchy melodies, and suggestive lyrics that give this musician the option to tread the line between pop or indie artist.

The night ended with Adesuwa, who was joined by one of her bandmates, Alikee, on back-up vocals. Even with just an acoustic guitar to accompany her unplugged set, Adesuwa’s original songs were immensely eclectic, her voice and her lyrics at the forefront of her musicianship.

The most powerful element of her set, however, was the duo’s sincere harmonies that at times had a grounding quality, picking up the lower tones of the melodies and at other points in the set giving ether that allowed the audience to float with the lightness of her songs. Both voices were clear, flawless, and piercing. Alikee skillfully blended her voice through conscientious volume control and a natural reading of Adesuwa’s voice, a skill only attainable through practice over time.

Adesuwa offered eclectic sounds and ethereal harmonies. 

Adesuwa offered eclectic sounds and ethereal harmonies. 

 Adesuwa wasn’t afraid to show her vulnerability through her lyrics. In Coach Class, she goes so far as to admit missing someone so much that she buys the beloved a plane ticket to see her-albeit in coach. And yet, in Wild Light, Adesuwa sings “Even if I were to get lost I’d find my way right back in your arms,” affirming an unwavering determination without being in your face about it.

What Adesuwa does best is not try- never pushing or manipulating her voice to sound a certain way. Her voice is like wind, gentle with moments of gusto. Her power is not in the volume or intensity of her voice, but in its natural fluidity. Her performance doesn’t demand, but rather inspires, a quietude from the audience.

As all three performers were no stranger to the Sofar Sounds arena, neither are they strangers to performing elsewhere in the city. The Caverns are playing Pianos on April 14th. Daniel Feels’ EP Release Show will be April 22nd at the Studio at Webster Hall. Full band in swing, Adesuwa will be playing at the Bric TV Station in downtown Brooklyn on March 10.    

And though 40 strangers dispersed back into the warming breeze that hinted at an early spring, the spirit of New York winter was most certainly embraced in the comforting whims of Molly’s Upper West Side apartment.