SoFar Sounds: The House Concerts You Should Be Going To

In a city with such a wealth and diversity of musical talent like Philadelphia has, house concerts are to be expected. Chances are, if you’re into local music, you’ve probably seen a band or two play in your friend’s house, put a couple dollars in the hat (or vase, or cereal bowl) being passed around, and had a good time.  But putting on a house concert is more than just making room for the empty Yuenglings and clearing out some chairs. I was lucky enough to experience a really great house show, thanks to the Sofar Sounds Philadelphia group.

For those not yet in the know, Sofar Sounds is a group that, “produces live musical performances in dozens of cities around the world [including Philadelphia]”, with special attention paid to emerging local artists and, “the magical nature of live performance.” Interested attendees can sign up to be notified when a Sofar show is planned in their city, and the Sofar crew documents each of these magical nights via live streaming, social media posts, and video recordings. The result of their efforts, as I learned on a cool-ish Sunday night in early August, is a series of stripped-down and intimate performances by talented artists for a completely attentive audience.

This particular August night opened with several songs performed solo by Lenina Crowne guitarist Eric Faust, who came from State College to represent the band. With a slight edge of nerves in his voice, Faust was quick to assure the audience that he would do his best to represent the nine-person band on his own, and did so very well, aside from the occasional vocals lost behind the strumming of the guitar. From the first sweet sounds of “Queen Jane”, the crowd listened appreciatively to a set full of songs about girls, including a brand-new number written by Faust that was untitled as of the performance. His easy lyrics and plucky guitar work paved the way for the acoustic acts to follow.

Second on the bill for the Sofar evening was the self-described “Cabin Music” duo Maitland, played by Josh Hines on guitar and lead vocals, and Jeff Mach on drums and backup vocals. The duo performed several songs  from their recent album (from a cabin in the woods). all of which had a twinkly, foresty quality to them–the band’s Bon Iver and Fleet Foxes influences are readily apparent to fans familiar with the genre. The audience remained captivated from the start through to the duo’s closing song “Sleepyhead”, which, ironically enough, is the sort of track many indie music lovers might like to wake up to.

After a brief intermission and leg-stretching for the audience, Lancaster native Mike McMonagle took the stage-corner of the living room armed with guitar and harmonica to perform a few bootstomping songs. He was backed up on guitar and vocals by Jerry Bernhardt (of Philadelphia band Juston Stens and the Get Real Gang). Together, the duo provided the rolling train of energy that served as the perfect transition between the evening’s earlier soft acoustics, and the punkier music to come.

Fourth on the docket was New York-née-Ohio band Poor Remy. The group’s blended vocals and instrumental mix brought an upbeat, sing-a-long vibe that suited their scrappy schoolboy image very well. This image was just furthered by banjo player-turned-tambourinist Adrian Galvin’s broken arm in a sling, and the charmingly boyish guitarist Kenny Polyak exclaimed, “Oh, and we brought stickers for you guys!” before passing Poor Remy stickers through an entertained crowd in the middle of the set. Sidenote: the band’s May 2012 EP would make a perfect soundtrack for any roadtrips that require shouting at the top of your lungs, should you be in need of that sort of thing.

Finally, the audience (which was growing slightly restless at the end of the night, though doing so very politely) was treated to the evening’s closing act, Philadelphia band The Fleeting Ends. Fresh off of the XPoNential Music Festival stage, The Fleeting Ends brought the catchy harmonies and energetic rock sounds that their fans know them for. Although the band usually plays with more equipment, the acoustic nature of the house show brought out an enjoyable bit of softness in their sound–I was personally reminded of The Beatles, circa Rubber Soul. Altogether, the band managed to hit the perfect closing notes to a night of intimate live music.

The crowded quarters of house concerts like this are just right for creating connections between artists and fans, and for generating magical musical moments. The Sofar Sounds crew seems to understand this, and the way they manipulate the expected ambiance of a room, the spaces they choose, and the audience they draw all work together to reinforce it. The obvious takeaway is this: if you want to see how good a house concert can REALLY be, don’t miss out on the amazing nights that Sofar Sounds is putting together.

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  1. Pingback: Rock On Philly’s Top Music Moments of 2013 - Rock On Philly

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