sofar sounds

SOFAR SOUNDS NYC: LOWER EAST SIDE // 8.26.2016

Review and photos: Parisa Mahdad

It was a mellow night at Projective Space last Friday for an end of summer rendition of Sofar Sounds NYC. The last week of summer was upon us and many of our city compatriots had left for more relaxing places in advance of Labor Day.

Matty Rico set the #mellowvibes with his minimalist hip hop set up.  He fronted the mic, and his friend, Bobby, manned the Moog.

The artist’s inaugural Sofar set began with the song "3am." The majority of the song’s musicality was comprised of ambient quality chords on the Moog. Rico rapped the verses and sang the chorus, which was equally straightforward- “You can be a star tonight. Let’s just keep it real.” 

Rico is most influenced by Kanye West and Most Def with other less obvious artists, such as Elliot Smith and Atmosphere, also finding their way into the landscape of his music.

In "Daylight," Matty Rico broke away from the traditional hip hop elements of heavy beats instead opting for a happy-go-lucky sound. Matty Rico even picked up a tambourine while the audience collaborated with claps and snaps. Bobby played the electric keys and sang back-up vocals. The subject matter of "Daylight" was nicely contrasted to its uplifting musicality, Rico rapping verses about the challenges of everyday life before hitting the song’s hook in resolve, “I’m on grind to keep the lights on. You can’t stop this shining…I won’t wait for daylight to save my soul.”

"Same Clothes" incorporated an electronic track from Rico’s laptop as well as live bass by Bobby. This was a crowd favorite of Rico’s set as it explained anecdotes around why he was wandering in the same clothes as last night. The lyrics and rhymes left me laughing…and blushing. I’d love to detail some excerpts from his lyrics, but I must refrain. You know, in case my parentals ever read this thing.

Rico is able to oscillate between light-hearted tales and more serious, impactful subject matter. As an artist, he is serious in his music and performance but can also crack subtle jokes between songs. Bobby also balances the stage with his happy go lucky presence and constant big smile. Matty Rico and Bobby met in the Chicago area 7 years ago and have managed to continue the musical connection in Brooklyn and other parts of the city. 

Rico ended his set with "Always," which was written for the artist’s dad. It’s a livelier song featuring more production in the electronic track and featuring piano chords from the Moog. The verses detail the hardships of his father’s life before the chorus repeats “And this goes out to you.”

The night’s second act was Sonia Seelinger, an official Gibson artist who was visiting from her native Las Vegas. It was the artist’s first time visiting New York and her first Sofar Sounds show. The artist serenaded us with songs off of her EP entitled Songs on a Shelf.

The artist’s sound is heavily influenced by Bossanova. Her fingerpicking and string plucking could easily be at home in a Woody Allen movie or in any European café on a summer night.  

The artist’s first song, "Cinnamon Skin," speaks to the mind’s flirtations with an irresistible lover. Jazzy, classical guitar picking frame suggestive lyrics, “Cinnamon skin on my mind all of the time. Tell me how can I resist.”  

In addition to her guitar skills, Seelinger has a flawless voice. In "Tongue Tied," Seelinger’s voice is clear and effortless. She is able to fluctuate between high and low with ease- her voice never strays from its lovely, birdlike ring. Her songwriting is strong with lyrics such as “Stumbling over my words trying to be prophetic but my attempts are pathetic against your poetics. You’ve got me tongue tied.“ The artist’s comfort on stage allows the audience to also settle in and swim into her sound.

The artist’s last two songs complemented each other. “This one I wrote on a rainy day,” she prefaced, introducing her song, "Carousel." Inspired by the challenges of a long distance relationship, Seelinger’s fingerpicking is the foundation for regretful words and melancholy, the artist singing “Did I say the things that caused you grief? So now we only speak in my dreams.”

Seelinger’s last song, "The Girl," is an ode to being alone. Seelinger introduced the song with a final word to us all- “You’ve got to love yourself before you love another person,” which was met by loud applause from the audience who expressed their overwhelming consensus. It’s as if we had all felt the dark side of love and loneliness, doing the heavy lifting of picking ourselves up on our own, living to hear this song together.

In Seelinger’s smooth, easeful ways she sang, “I was going to be the girl who could it by herself and never needed anybody’s help, but what can I say, you swept me away.”

Seelinger is part bohemian, part new age sage imparting her old soul wisdom between songs. As she ended her set, she left us with, “I’m here to help you change your mood.”

And the mood certainly did change. If the audience was in for a mellow night, that was all about to be magnificently disrupted with Manatree, a four-man band from Richmond, Virginia. The band took a while to set up and sound check, but they still managed to exchange laughs and improvised electric guitar riffs between themselves in the interim, which grew energetic anticipation amongst the audience. For the first song, 3 members sat down, leaving Jack to take the stage on his own, opening up with an original solo song. 

His song, "Anges," felt like real rock. Emotion flowed from his voice, his eyes were closed and the muscles of his throat visibly strained in that emotional rock and roll kind of way.  It was just Jack and his guitar. His band mates were sitting right in front of me taking sips of their beer and mouthing the words to the song casually as he sang, “Every fucking engine in my life has brought me under.” There was support but also genuine enjoyment from his band mates.

When Jack completed the first song, he introduced the band and invited them up to take the floor for "Got It." The song began in minimalist fashion with Alex on drums hitting his sticks onto the rims of his drum set. Noma, the bassist, joined in from the start too.

The song was one verse that vocalist, Tristan, sang twice. Tristan has a Mick Jagger quality to him, animated and unpredictable on stage- swaying his arm to his hip or shouldering up with a band mate. He has attitude but he’s not afraid to smile while commanding the stage, singing lyrics such as “I do what I want to. Breakthrough.” Jack always keeps his composure on stage- he’s serious about the music. He joined in on harmonies during the chorus while keeping rhythm on his guitar. The song ended with Tristan unexpectedly scatting into the mic.

"Scuffle Town" begins with a dark intro as Tristan picked up his guitar. Sharp percussive hits from Alex come into the song as the bass adds an elongated heaviness. The song was meant to be slow and heavy. Harmonies leading up to the chorus are reminiscent of Local Natives especially with the drums building momentum into the chorus. Intricate interludes between lead and rhythm guitar frame verses that are straightforward and universal- “I love you always but you always fuck him.” The song ends with Tristan screaming key words as beautiful harmonies contrast his raw expression for a dramatic ending to the song.  

Each member of Manatree has an individual style in a way that contributes to a common solidarity to the band. There is a stoicism and yet a playful connection between the members. Seven years of playing as a band has earned them this connection, the ability to spontaneously read each other’s next move as to move accordingly, react to one another, in one succinct performance.

The band’s first self-titled album was released in 2015 and is true to their alternative rock core. Manatree is in the process of finishing up their sophomore album, which incorporates more electronic explorations in the vain of Frank Ocean.

Manatree’s final song of the night, "The Words," exhibited the best parts of Manatree- the band is serious but laid back, well rehearsed but not scripted. Vocals and a high- pitched guitar motif start the song. Heavy bass from a Korg synth and sharp drums build the pressure of the song. The bass is distorted which is a nice contrast to the clean, high-pitched guitar line and high cymbal accents. Pop and electronic elements pervade this perfectly produced song.

manatree tame.jpg

The highlight of the night was the finale to this song, which ended in pure rock fashion. Alex and Tristan hit heavy chords timed and played succinctly with Noma’s heavy live bass. Noma added a kick in the air during a break in the progression.  Tristan’s hat flew off allowing his hair and one long earring to thrash in true rockstardom before the instrumentals all crashed to silence for a dramatic ending.

"The Words" was the last surge of summer. Its abrupt ending would mark the denouement of summer in the city. Nothing could top such a wild band or such an intense song. The crowd did not linger. Rather they departed the space in quiet understanding that they had a final week to unwind before the city’s autumnal energy slapped them back to New York’s addictive tough love.  

 

Sofar Sounds New York City: Tribeca 5/20/16

Review and Photos by Parisa Mahdad

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Friday’s Sofar show was held in a Tribeca apartment. The building, once a department store in the mid 19th century, gave the night’s venue stunning acoustics with its high ceilings held by pillars over hardwood floors. There was space, which most of us haven’t felt in a while. Exotic trinkets and modern décor alike adorned otherwise minimalist shelves. An oversized red textured rug laid adjacent to a prominent piece of abstract art.

They even had pizza. And whiskey. And wine.

 

This Sofar show was curated by Hypnocraft, headed up by Rachael Pazdan who chose three very different musical acts to suit everyone’s tastes for the evening.

Mrs. Adam Schatz is the solo project of Adam Schatz who usually performs with his band, Landlady. Schatz describes his solo act's stage name as his wife’s name. He doesn’t have a wife, though.

He began his set standing and playing the saxophone. He used a looper to record and layer saxophone samples. He then stopped everything to take up a drum stick in each hand and bang on the rim of a floor tom in beat. He added vocals.

“Be my husband man I be your wife…”

His voice was perfect on Nina Simone.

Schatz’s set was stop and go. It was an art installation in real time. I was uncertain as to whether he was improvising the layering, the twisting of the knobs, and the switching between the looper and synth. The unpredictability of Schatz’s performance style adds to its excitement.  

The artist’s second song, “Solid Brass,” also reflects this unpredictability. Schatz’s lyrics go from “My voice is lower in the morning” to “Your legs are shorter in the evening.” The electric piano is distorted taking on a guitar guise. Time signatures change regularly, keys change, and piano motifs chop up and smooth out.

“Driving in California” is a tribute to the golden state feels that Schatz found while driving through California on tour with his band in a van. It has a gospel beginning, Schatz “oo”ing over organ inspired chords. The music drops out and Schatz beats his chest with his right hand. At one point, he comes out from behind the synth and plays a sax solo pacing across the floor without any additional music backing. To be accompanied by silence is a beautiful thing.

The guy is a natural performer, his set blending music, comedy, and movement based performance art.  Schatz has a knack for improvising between songs at which point he transforms into a natural comedian. At one point, he joked about his love of knives and his tendency to take at least one knife from every house show he plays. In no better time did one of the apartment hosts walk over to the stage to hand him his set of knives from the kitchen.  Schatz stayed in character, using a knife to nonchalantly accompany his movements and his pacings.

Schatz introduced his final song, “I Pledge Allegiance (To Your Body),” by stating, “This is my most patriotic song and my most sexually charged song.” It was also my favorite song of his set. The melody of the national anthem was craftily twisted and maneuvered and met with clever lyrics such as “I pledge allegiance to your soul. I pledge allegiance to your elbows, to your fingers and your toes. I pledge allegiance to your runny nose.”

Schatz’s voice shines in this song- a deep raspy blues quality that so effortlessly jumps into falsetto.  At one point in the song, Schatz stops completely, vocalizes drums, and then busts out into a killer piano solo. As he sings “Make me get down on one knee,” Schatz stops the music, gets down on one knee and twists his knobs into sound.

The best component of the song, however, was the crowd participation that ended the set. “High and dry on the fourth of July. J-U-L-Y, you ain’t got no alibi. Shootin firecrackers uppa my spine. You are the stars to my stripes…” to which he began dancing with a large knife.

J. Hoard’s set was church. He was joined by his co-writer and producer, Greg Seltzer. They met at a soul jam session and have been writing and performing together for 3 years. Though seemingly two very different characters, J. Hoard robed in a majestic purple ensemble and Seltzer coolly understated in his Stan Smiths and black pullover, the two have strong musical commonalities. Hoard studied jazz at Berklee College of Music and Seltzer studied jazz at the New School. The duo both have a deep appreciation for soul music.

Hoard is otherworldly.  It is no wonder that his music emanates divinity. His father was a pastor and a musician that played for the Ohio Players. His father stopped singing R&B to dedicate himself to gospel music. J. Hoard has managed to blend both of these styles into his own music.  J Hoard himself describes his music as acoustic soul. Though influences such as Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye are unmistakable, Seltzer also filled me in on Hoard’s love of Tina Turner.

His second song was a standard called “Come Sunday," popularly performed by Duke Ellington. It was bound to be soulful with lyrics such as “Lord, dear Lord above. God Almighty please look down and see my people through.” Hoard has perfect control of his voice, able to ascend in his range softly with simultaneous intensity.  He doesn’t need a mic,  which is great because he can’t help but express his music through broad strokes of his arms and dancer like pacings across the stage. This song was a prime example of J. Hoard’s talent: He has a voice with the flexibility of a saxophone, the bodily expression of a dancer, and the presence of a preacher.

The duo performed “Arctic,” which is off of their most recent EP entitled “Feel Good.” J. Hoard embraces his humanity. He introduced the song by unabashedly stating “I need a man!” The song does express more sensual lyrics such as “In the Arctic, let your love heat me up. In the darkness, let your moon be my trust.” Seltzer keeps a steady foundation to the song repeating a riff before slowing down at the bridge and letting Hoard’s voice keep the rhythm. The song highlights Hoard’s control of his voice and his dynamic R&B style. Hoard wraps a shaker around his foot to add rhythm to his set.  

“Miss Misery” rounded out Hoard’s set expressing the road to breaking away from hardship while cleverly alternating the gender roles of these emotions in the lyrics. “What is gender? Really what is it?” Hoard interjected as he introduced the song, transforming the venue into a socially conscious church.

J. Hoard was more than a musical performer, he was a channel for light and inspiration for the audience. Music was his vehicle of choice. His outro as he left his set consisted of a simple melody over words singing, “You deserve to smile. You deserve to lie for a while, ‘cause you have worked hard to feel good now.” Hoard and Seltzer most certainly made the night’s audience feel something more than good.

Tigue was the night’s final act, their set consisting of one “song.” It’s hard for me to write about twenty minutes of percussion, but this is what I can say: It’s fucking good. It’s something spiritual. Something sexual. Mesmerizing.

The three members, Matt Evans, Amy Garapic, and Carson Moody sat in a triangle-like formation with a drum set in the middle. The set began with Matt Evans on a shaker in his right hand and electric keys betwixt the fingers of his left. Evans laid down the foundation of the set with a steady shake and a long, sustained organ inspired chord. 

It was endurance. The band proved their physical and mental fortitude. The set moved in ebbs and flows of synchronicity whereby Garapic and Moody mirrored each other’s movements, while at other points, the two broke off into more varied rhythms using their additional accoutrements made of wood, metal, and drum. Likewise with the keyboard, the progression was either steady and slow changing or more varied in chord progression.

The three members met in undergrad at Ohio State and happened to reunite in graduate school in Rochester. They found each other once again, this time in Brooklyn, where they have been living and playing for the last three years.  

Evans seems to lead the pack, not only providing the only constant of shaker and keyboard but through his eyes- Garapic and Moody periodically looking to him for a nod signaling that something’s coming next.

Tigue brought the audience into a different realm. Their music is a meditation. The players themselves have a zen-like quality about them. Evans shows his transcendence, his eyes gazing upwards and a knowing smile coming over his face. He’s into it.  Garapic and Moody are so intensely immersed into the technicalities of the rhythm and the precision with which they coordinate between themselves. They stare intently at their drums or each other. They don’t mess around.

Tigue certainly left an impression on the audience. Their set ended dramatically leaving a stark silence of awe before the audience came back to Earth and erupted in much earned applause.

Whereas most Sofar shows end in a trickling out of the space, the hosts of the evening invited everyone to stay for a jam session and to indulge further in libations as we all eased on into the weekend. 

Sofar Sounds NY: Boerum Hill, Brooklyn 4/17/16

Review: Parisa Mahdad

Photography: Omar Ahmad

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Talk about an obscure door. Tucked between car warehouses and a sketchy podiatry sign, was a  metal door.  This was working out to be my kind of Sunday evening. I like strange places. Unassuming and a tinge creepy. A black staircase led me directly to a black door, which opened up to another hallway and a curtain held together by packaging tape. Ah yes, Brooklyn charm.

Backdrop Brooklyn. A young urbanite’s dream of large white blocked walls, strings of lights, and most importantly space. It was Sofar Sounds of course, Boerum Hill style.   

Backdrop

 

The night’s first act intensified the audience’s sense of place. Morningsiders gave you a chance to leave the city for a quick sec-  to the acoustics inside a barn, or around a fire sitting contently on dirt. The image of sitting among high grasses in Georgia came to mind on more than one occasion. It’s the fiddle, the stand-up bass, and the three-part harmonies. Not the three- part harmonies that are almost cringe inducingly perfect or contrived, but the three-part harmonies that are subtle, beautiful, and that lend room for loose shouting or wooping.

Morningsiders, who are normally a four-member band, were abridged this evening tailoring their material to the three-piece setup. The band met in Morningside Heights at Columbia University in college. They are understated- charming in their small talk between songs, but really they are there to play music.

The band’s new song, “Ashes,” will appear on the band’s upcoming album that they are primed to start recording in May. Elongated fiddle strokes defined the melancholy of this song. Harmonies were more subdued than the first, the band phrasing the harmonies more gently, more thoughtfully to mark the gravity of lyrics such as “It’s something you did, and we both fall down.”

“How Good It Is” similarly showed the band’s softer dynamic continuing with longer, drawn out fiddle and a sweetness that proved the band’s ability to pull off a serious love song. The bass line was simple but precise- its presence very much felt throughout the song.  

Morningsiders

 

At one point mid-song during the set, the fiddle became tangled in the lights, but the Morningsiders take it in stride, only adding to their endearing relationship with the audience. Whereas some bands may hold a façade and create a barrier with their audience, Morningsiders have a way about them that makes the audience feel comfortable, poking fun at themselves and keeping the mood light.

Their fourth song, “Lightning,” began with a strong driving rhythm with sharp fiddle strokes, a driving bass, and fast-paced guitar strums.  The song reinforced the band’s effortless harmonies, which oscillated between elongated in the verses and more riley and loose in the chorus. Intensive bass slapping along with an impressive fiddle solo deserving of some foot stomping ended the song very powerfully only to be met with thunderous applause.

The audience received a bonus song from the band with a fifth and final song. It was a done deal when I heard  “Stevie Nicks’ ‘Wild Heart.’”

It was most apparent in this cover that these three people were meant to harmonize with one another. A sign of a good folk band, the harmonies were precise but left room for ruggedness similar to The Head and The Heart. Fiddle plucks, soft finger picking from the guitarist, and limited bass induced a silence, a sign of the crowd’s undivided attention. The band left the audience captivated and appreciative of the band’s lingering spirit that renewed our own Sunday blues.

Morningsiders’ cover was a graceful transition to Mikaela Davis who in some ways embodied the gypsy spirit of Stevie Nicks- blonde hair, black laced dress, and the dreamiest of spirits radiating from her and her harp. She was joined by Kurt Jensen who lent his hands on the pedal steel and lap steel.

With an album recorded in Nashville and a tour that just wrapped up on the West Coast, it was unexpected to discover that the duo hails from Rochester, New York. Though Davis’ lyrics often touch deeply on a sense of place, her music transcends boundaries of genre and style.

Her first song, “My Light Is Always On” unarguably integrates Eastern influences, her voice mimicking a sitar and the pedal steel further emphasizing harmonic minor scales that shape her music as partially psychedelic in genre.

Davis’ voice has a quality of being paper thin and ethereal while simultaneously cutting you deep to the point. She knows what she’s doing. Her face is focused with intent, but zen, while her fingers precisely pluck the strings of her harp.

Did I mention, her harp changes colors? Definitely, the coolest instrument I’ve seen in a long while.

Mikaela Davis

 

Davis introduced her second song by describing her time touring the West Coast and driving up Highway 1, marveling at Big Sur among other mystical stop offs. Her second song, “When You’re Away,” was inspired by being away on tour.

And California was certainly present in this song. The lap steel oscillated like waves, similar to surf rock of the 50s and 60s. Davis’ voice swooped up and down, beautifully slurring the phrasing of the melody. The song is essentially what it would feel like if we lived inside a lava lamp. And it feels good. The harp’s picking was active which gave the song structure and backbone through which the lap steel and the vocals could melt into each other.

Davis ended the song with a dramatic flick of her wrists and a final pluck on the strings of her harp. Davis exudes a cool attitude. She’s fully in control, driving her music, and no one can disturb that even if they tried. She is untouchable.

In Davis’ third song, we are again reminded of her consistent theme of a nomadic sense of place when she sings, “My lover’s been all around this world. He carries with him his song. I don’t think I could follow unless I had a reason, a reason to go.”

Davis played the final song of her set alone. “Caleb Meyer” is a folk song that Davis was inspired to play after a Gillian Welch rendition of the song. It was an opportunity to hear the harp alone in its true sound. The audience was able to hear how dynamic the harp can be- rhythmic, melodic, and ambient all on its own. Davis uses an electric pick-up for her harp, which further catches the vibrations of the instrument and gives it a more robust, ambient quality.

When I asked how she typically classifies her sound, Davis was genuinely at a loss. It was refreshing to see someone focused on the fluidity of creation rather than the label of what people would call it. She did note that the band is heavily influenced by Neil Young and The Band. The lap steel and the pedal steel, though typically used in country music, add dimension to her complex sound. Some in the crowd suggested a fusion of ambient psych pop. Whatever you want to call it, it was good. Fresh, new, and oh so lovely.

On The Sun closed the night. The eight-piece cast of cool characters graced the stage. It no longer felt like Sunday, and Monday felt very far away. When you watch this band, it doesn’t feel like you’re watching, but rather that you’re part of the group. The players are laughing and chatting with each other on stage. They’re all just good friends, and you feel like their friend too. A badass gal on the sax, two bohemian back-up vocalists, two electrifying lead vocalists, and a keyboardist, bass player, and drummer that feel the music hard.

The instrumentation is funky and jazz inspired, the vocals are passionately R & B and sometimes electrifyingly pop. Their first song began with striking vocals from Adam Bohanan. Singing is a physical process for Adam- witnessing a person’s body shake with the feelings of what he is expressing. That’s Adam Bohanan. That is what I saw when he started the set off with “I’ve been taking you for granted…But you can make it on your own. You’re just a heart without a home.”

On The Sun’s second song showed the band’s softer side. The electric guitar was melodic with laid back saxophone motifs setting the mood. The guitar solos reverberated creating ambient space within the instrumentation. And though the bridge starts out quiet, it builds into a four-part harmony repeating “I’ll be back at the end of the day” while Bohanan belts it out. The saxophone follows suit as the drums intensify with brushes, the guitar returns to its solo, and the keyboard maintains the ambient feels as the song fades out.

On The Sun

 

The band’s third song was my favorite of their set. It began with the keyboard playing full ambient chords while the guitar used high-pitched picking to give the foundation of the song a pop alternative feel. Layered on top were R&B and pop styled vocals. The mélange of vocals and lyrics such as “What about love, what about trust, don’t we understand” felt reminiscent of Bob Marley.

During the majority of the song, guitarist/vocalist, Dylan Charles, sang the bass line while Adam sung high, and the girls harmonized in the background. The lyrics were simple and the vocals also subtle, giving the song a very minimalist feel. Just as the vocals stop and the instrumentation fades away, the audience thinks the song is over.

And surprise, the band returns as lively as it could get. The band comes home to its truth. The drums and bass kick in, the guitar is strumming distorted power chords, and the vocals intensify in volume. Drumsticks are now being used and the rhythm is incorporating more cymbals. And of course, the song would not be complete without an epic sax solo. The whole band is dancing and admiring saxophonist, Janelle Reichman, bring it on home.

As a collaborative writing group, each member of the band contributes to the songwriting in some way.

The band’s fourth song was a great ending to the night. The guitar plays a low bass line complementing the keyboard’s high-pitched melody and strong drums. “It’s a dirty job but someone’s gotta do it. I wish I could say it’s going to get easier. It’s going to be the same shit again and again,” Dylan Charles sings. Again, it’s a physical performance. He plays and sings like he knows what he’s singing to the bone. The dreamy bohemian backup vocalists, Stephanie Layton and Susanne Layton, swaying freely on the stage, add the vibes as well as the sweet high harmonies.

On The Sun feels the music. Every note they play, they live it. Whereas Morningsiders and Mikaela Davis help you transcend the confines of the concrete jungle through their music, On The Sun freezes time and makes you forget that you have to go to work in less than twelve hours. If not already indicative in the name, that is the real spirit of Sofar Sounds- feeling far away so up close.

Morningsiders will play the Manhattan Inn on May 22nd. If you’re up in Rochester, NY, you can find Mikaela Davis at the Montage Music Hall on May 12th, and On The Sun will be playing Rockwood Music Hall on May 28th.