1/20/16 – Sofar

Hidden behind the unsuspecting facade of a South End apartment building lay a puzzling mix of log cabin: the location of Wednesday night’s Sofar show. Even the bathroom, with its mosaic glass window, giant hot tub, and wooden sauna, felt like a royal hideaway in the woods.

The top floor, where the mystery performers played – Sofar keeps the lineup a secret until you arrive – was an open space that snugly fit over 100 people. A winding staircase led to a windowed tower that overlooked a frosty view of the Boston skyline.

The artists that night were all Sofar alumni: Matthew Connor, Billington Sea, and Grey Season. There were more imperfections at this show than most–  but then again, usually all three acts don’t debut brand-new songs.

Matthew Connor’s rich crooning kicked off the night, his brightly-painted turquoise nails plucking the strings of his guitar. Diverging from his recent electronic work, Connor returned to his simple, acoustic roots, allowing the audience to focus on his impressive vocals as they soared to Perfume Genius falsettos and dropped to Nick Cave deep growls.

“I think I’ve only played this one for my cat,” he said as he introduced a brand-new song, and “Usually I feel like I’m shouting about sex to people,” for another.

The funny banter continued with the second act, Billington Sea, as they told us of the bedazzled poncho they left at home (“your loss”) and Jake Hill’s cat, which was accidentally buried alive. “It actually wasn’t dead and it unburied itself, walked across the porch and then actually died.” Bandmate Hayley Sabella buried her face in her hands. The dimpled duo debuted new music of their own, but their set wasn’t without forgotten lyrics. A quick recovery, beautiful harmonies and lines like “pray tell me does the sheep’s wool grow white with worry” made the crowd quickly forgive and forget any false starts.

After another short intermission, Grey Season took the floor. The wooden guitars that had rested atop the cream-colored couch were finally put to use. The crowd had sat through the first two sets, customary at Sofar performances, which tend to have a laid-back feel. But with encouragement from Grey Season and a promise to be able to sit back down later, the audience rose to their feet to sway to a frenzy of string strumming.

New tracks were performed here, too, with bassist Ian Jones taking the mic. (“If you write it you have to sing it,” he explained to us before the set.) The sound was more fuzzy rock than gritty folk. Drummer Benjamin Burns kept the crowd on their toes with impressive time signature changes that delivered rhythms that pushed the songs forward.

A temporary sound issue left Jones without a working mic, but lead vocalist Jon Mills improvised, harmonizing with Jones to amplify his sound. The crowd took a seat for the final numbers; “This is like church stand up and sit down,” joked Mills. Maybe that’s where we were: a strange log cabin castle church.

As the night came to a close the five band members came together, standing shoulder to shoulder for a special cover of Iron and Wine’s “Faded From the Winter.”

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