By Geno Thackara
The underground Sofar (Songs From a Room) concert series still offers just about the best listening environment around, and the monthly traveling party is apparently reaching a fever pitch this season. The Philly crew managed to plan a whopping three shows for July and has a double-stacked month coming up next. A key part of the appeal (as always) is the fun of surprise – attendees are told about the location at the last minute and only discover the lineup upon arriving at the show. The other great part is the experience itself. It’s an event where photography is kept to a hopefully-unobtrusive minimum and everyone’s asked to pay attention to the music without any other distractions.
Knowing how these things can go, I’d been half-prepared to play sardines in someone’s living room for the second show of the month; instead we got to pace or spread out picnic blankets in comfort at the Center for Art in Wood on North 3rd Street. The gallery’s atmosphere among the hand-carved exhibits was simply delightful and the performances happily followed suit. Sophie Coran’s quaint variety of lounge-pop is already personal and intimate enough to suit the solo context perfectly. Her newly released single “Jimmy” works very well in its recording with rhythm section and horns, for instance, but her low-key charm came across just fine through her opening spot without needing any embellishment.
It was unusual to have a PA system to amplify the performers (something Sofar usually goes without), and for a while it honestly seemed unnecessary. The keys and dual guitars of Cold Weather Company would have resonated in the space just fine. Any jokes about seeing this band on a 90° evening would be too obvious, so let’s leave that alone. They’ve doubtless heard it all before. Anyway, their folky alt-rock sound is a fine pick for any season, full of percussive yet fluid acoustic guitar and wonderfully smooth harmonies. They couldn’t help joking about how long their next recording process might be, based on the unexpected extra year it took for their second album A Folded Letter to come together. Judging by the splendid results they’ve gotten so far, whatever comes should be worth the wait.
The second half of the night was the point when things got weird and somewhat wild. Anthony Lucius walked out ready to let off all the restless energy he’d built up during 14 hours on the road from St. Louis. First, though, he graciously turned the opening piece over to Sebo Lee – his good friend, producer and multi-instrumental co-conspirator on this year’s Welcome to St. Lucius. Lee sat down and dexterously spun a fascinating mix of glitchtronica beats and samples out of one simple box before later getting his own solo spot. Odd and compelling all the same, it made a solid bed of beats to underpin Lucius as he rapped out a twisty stream of consciousness all about peace and positivity. Okay, so it turned out that the PA speakers made sense after all.
Birthday Club put the equipment to the test while rocking out for the closing set. It might have been nice to hear how they’d sound if they toned it down quietly, as per the show’s usual unplugged mode, but the Houston quartet doesn’t seem to have that on the agenda. They’re all about bringing the party with a dash of 80s-tinged lushness. A few catchy selections from their first EP Lighten Up had the room bouncing and also got quite a few curious (or confused) looks from passersby out on the sidewalk. It’s not exactly a usual sight for your average Wednesday night in Old City, but of course this isn’t your usual kind of show. The current Sofar run finishes July 14th in west Philly, after which there will be more mystery acts popping up in other unknown spots on August 8th and 28th – each one with more discoveries waiting for anyone who’s willing to come out and be surprised.