by Adam McGrath
Chances are you’ve heard about Sofar Sounds, the living room concert series that originated in London and continues to branch out to cities around the globe. If not, you’re missing out on a refreshingly intimate music experience where fans and bands come together to celebrate a shared passion for the arts. Sofar Philly is surging strongly into its third year, and for their March show, hosted Saturday night at the Kensington home of the guys from Hotbox Studios, the series welcomed two UK acts, To Kill A King and Prides, and two PA acts, Worshyper and Maitland.
Powerful and layered vocal performances emerged as the theme of the night, perhaps exemplified best by openers Maitland. Lead vocalist Josh Hines quieted his nervous energy into four beautiful, sparse songs, his voice buoyed by his bandmates as they offered heartfelt harmonies and atmospheric accompaniment. The group’s gentle folk music is perfect for a walk through falling autumn leaves. The cross-legged crowd hung on each syllable as Maitland finished with newer songs “Luna” and “Cup of Love”.
Philly band Worshyper continued the vocal-forward trend, with singer/bassist Matthew Hampson and singer Marie teaming up for breathy, slow versions of songs from their album Keeps. The electro-pop group kept the music really simple with just a few notes here and there from a keyboard or xylophone, leaving room for Hampson’s hip-swaying Jemaine Clement delivery. In between snap-along tracks like “Twenties” and “Keeps”, Worshyper took us back a decade with a cover of Mariah Carey’s “We Belong Together.”
Scottish group Prides kicked off the second half of the night, and the synthpop band brought up the energy with keys, guitar, and a drum machine. Charming lead singer Stewart successfully engaged the audience, leading the band through “The Seeds You Sow,” “Messiah,” and “Out of the Blue.” Again, the performance was rounded out nicely by backing vocals. The one misstep for me was an uninspired cover of Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time”, which may have pleased the ladies in attendance, but was simply a distraction from their more interesting original songs.
English band To Kill A King capped off the international bill, and the five-piece group featured a more traditional pub-rock sound. Touring in support of the album Cannibals With Cutlery, To Kill A King will be joining up with Bastille in April, and there is certainly a welcome similarity in the two acts. Lead singer Ralph Pelleymounter is a powerful frontman, wielding his guitar with confidence and letting his lyrics ring out from deep in his chest. Songs like “Rays” and “Bloody Shirt” proved catchy and animated, while slower tracks like “Howling” gave other members ample room for impressive harmonization.
I was consistently impressed by the way each band adapted their music to the concert space, stripping things down and relying heavily on commanding vocal performances. It seems like the days of one lead singer carrying a tune are on their way out. As is usual for a Sofar show, the musicians hung out and mingled afterward, which is one of the reasons this house concert series is one of Philly’s most desired musical events.