3/26/15 – House Show

Dodging bottomless puddles, juking past umbrella-wielding Bostonians, squinting at every porch down a side street until you spot a sign hanging on a half-open door that reads “SOFAR”—you have arrived at the latest “Songs from a Room” show in Boston.

Performers and audience members alike milled around the 300-square-foot living room (one of the smallest spaces ever utilized for a SOFAR event), chatting and sipping beverages brought from home or shared by the generous and welcoming hosts. The exciting part of SOFAR is that no one has any idea who will be playing until the show starts, so you may find yourself chatting with your new favorite artist before ever hearing them play a note.

As the first performer approached the mic, floorboard-creaking silence fell upon the room and the sounds of a rainy night in Cambridge drifted in through open windows. Aaron Parnell Brown peered at the 30 or so sardines in front of him. With the audience seated inches away from his feet and five fixated cameras equally as close, it was a recipe for tension. But Brown devoured any and all tension as his soft, soulful voice melded with the rain and distant sirens to create a dreamlike experience. His first few songs were from his debut album, which he shyly mentioned came from a time of great heartache in his life. “I was very emotional when I was young,” said Brown, to spurts of laughter.

Joking aside, Brown’s physical and emotional pain marked the beginning of his musical career. His first instrument was the trumpet, but after busting out all his teeth playing basketball in his hometown of Philadelphia 15 years ago, he picked up the guitar instead—explaining why all of us at SOFAR experienced his tender acoustic fingerpicking and heartfelt songwriting instead of trumpet solos.

After a 15-minute break to grab some merch and talk to Brown, the audience squeezed back into their positions. This time, however, an array of pedal-operated percussion instruments made of junk (including animal bones, a baby shoe, and an antique gas can) created an intimidating barrier between audience and performer. Matt Lorenz, AKA The Suitcase Junket, proceeded to deafen the sounds of the city outside, bombarding the audience with thrashes, crashes, throat singing, and the dirtiest, nastiest, rawest sounding guitar conceivable.

Still, Lorenz effortlessly charmed the audience with many well received anecdotes and got the loudest applause after his raucous tunes. Despite the animal bones and eerie baby shoe, the cramped, damp audience felt the warmest during his set.

The intimidating effect of the tiny room became all-the-more apparent as Dwight Ritcher took the stage and turned on his amp. Ritcher is a seasoned musician who usually plays with his sweetheart Nicole Nelson or with his band at a venue with all the bells and whistles. One of the limitations of holding a performance at a residence is that it is not wired for it—and an unfortunate grounding issue created a impossible-to-ignore buzz out of his amp.

He noticed it, cursed it, and tried to fix it by playing with the knobs for a bit too long. The anxious audience exclaimed in so many words, “Just play!”

You wouldn’t think a buzz would make a difference to a man wielding a Flying V guitar, but unfortunately, the full potential of his voice shone through only in fleeting moments. Time stood still as he attempted to ignore the buzz, making nervous banter with the squirming audience between songs. He finally ditched his electric guitar for an unfamiliar borrowed acoustic, which took off the edge but resulted in sloppy-fingered moments that distracted from his rejuvenated vocals. Ritcher simply couldn’t catch a break.

The supportive, empathetic audience cheered wildly at the conclusion of the show. The relief shown brightly on peoples’ faces as they stood up and finally felt their legs again. It was a magical show that ended just in time to be home before midnight and fresh for work in the morning.

SOFAR Sounds Boston: March 2015
Pros
  • Like a box of chocolates—you never know what you're gonna get
  • Homemade instruments
  • City ambience floating in through the windows
Cons
  • Cramped floor seating
  • Buzzing amplifier
  • Bad acoustics
7.5Short n' Sweet

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