Last Friday night I had the very fun opportunity of attending a concert hosted by Sofar Sounds. I had heard of the company a while ago, but I didn’t fully know what they did or how they did it. They had an air of intrigue, of mystery, and I wanted to know what they were about. Better yet, I am a sucker for any speakeasy-like event where my name must be added to a list. Sofar Sounds checked off this extravagant whim in their very operation. Hosting elusive concerts is what they do.
I had entered a contest for free tickets through The Balvenie whiskey company, and didn’t expect to win. Naturally I was pretty excited when I got the email while sipping a chocolate shake at my local IHOP. Thus, began my Sofar journey. I had 24 hours to confirm I would be attending the show, or I would lose my spot on the guest list. Once confirmed, 36 hours before the show I would be emailed the secret location.
On Friday, I headed to the Brooklyn Historical Society. We were greeted warmly and given three drink chips each, along with slips of paper with the artist lineup and their socials. This is where the genius of Sofar really shined through- we were instructed to be respectful of the artists and not glance at our phones, but to take the occasional photo and video for Instagram, and to tag the artists. And really, who wouldn’t want their followers to know they were at a secret concert in the beautifully-archaic 18thcentury library of the Brooklyn Historical Society, sipping quality whiskey and eating fancy little hors d’oeuvres?
As my plus one and I found a spot to sit on the blankets laid out for us, I overheard the whisperings of other attendees: “This is so hipster!”, “I’m so excited, this is so cool!”, “They really just handed us glasses of straight whiskey with no chaser”, “Oh my god I already listen to this artist!”, and “I’m so happy I got to go to another Sofar show”.
It was then I was able to appreciate how widespread Sofar is- as the emcee polled the crowd for people who had previously attended and for first timers, it was revealed people had been to shows in Chicago, Los Angeles, London, and even Greece. But let’s talk the artists.
Melissa McMillan was the first artist to bless our ears. It was clear from her performance she was the epitome of the singer-songwriter genre; her lyrics were relatable, and clear-cut. It’s the kind of music that pierces the soul. Her vocals were dreamy and made for easy listening, especially during her performance of “New Light”. “New Light” made the “friend zone” sound ethereal, with cotton candy dreams of being seen “in a new light”. I also really appreciated her unreleased song “Getting Used To”. It was a smart and lilting jam about getting used to a good relationship after a bad one: getting used to receiving flowers “just ‘cause”, held doors, and generally being in a real love post a toxic love. It was catchy and haunting in all the right ways, and it kills me that I can’t listen to it right now. McMillan also held the air of a seasoned performer – she was at ease, yet held a captivating energy. You’ll like McMillan’s songs if you like A Fine Frenzy, Sara Bareilles, or Maggie Rogers. She is currently touring with The Killers. You can listen to her here.
The second act SoFar introduced was Deal Casino, a band from Asbury Park, New Jersey. They immediately held a very specific stage presence; they were quirky, funny, and clearly passionate. The songs they showcased held retrospect and melancholia, not unlike the work of Death Cab for Cutie. Myself and my guest were particularly keen on their songs “Baby Teeth” and “Robin Hood”, which held a lovely bridge. Of the three performers Friday night, Deal Casino most closely related to my personal music taste. They put on a very stripped-down performance, and their narrative lyrics really shined through. They were a treat to see live, and as a Jersey native I’m hoping I get a chance to see them on any upcoming tour. You’ll like Deal Casino if you like Dashboard Confessional, Death Cab for Cutie, or Bleachers. You can listen to them here.
Abir was the final artist. Her voice instantly sounded familiar- then it hit me that she is featured on the Macklemore song “Zara”. Even more impressive, she is opening for Lizzo in Prospect Park on September 21st. Her solo style revealed itself to be dance pop, and her SoFar performance allowed for much softer, acoustic, renditions of her work. Her lyrics were refreshingly candid, like on “Reunion”, where she discusses reuniting with her hometown friends for rowdy nights out. She had great stage presence, and it was easy to picture her alongside Lizzo. I also really liked her song “Finest Hour”, which was poignant and relatable. You’ll like Abir if you like Maren Morris or Bea Miller. You can listen to her here.
Sofar served up a uniquely curated intimate event, where communication between the artists and the audience was the main mission. If you like playing genre-roulette, (like my co-hosts and I used to do every week for the genre exploration segment of our radio show: “Spin the wheel! Spin the wheel!”), and can appreciate a more low-key concert experience then standing in a mosh pit, then the Sofar experience is perfect for you. You can learn more about Sofar and apply for tickets on their website.
If you are an artist and would like to play at a SoFar show, you can submit your portfolio here.