By Carly DeFilippo
Photos by Jose Camargo
Beyond featuring amazing live music, Sofar Sounds is a veritable tour of NYC’s real estate, from high-end lofts to low-fi warehouses. Among the most exciting places we’ve been hosted of late was the Cole Haan design studios in the Flatiron district. Inside an unassuming corporate building, we discovered a spacious, high-ceilinged living space, with snacks, giant pillows, couches…and a man painting the wall?
That wall was a canvas—a very large one at that—and the man was none other than Chicago artist Joe Miller, who had volunteered to live-paint a background for the evening’s artists. As we moved from indie pop to soulful, singer/songwriter and bluegrass sounds, his canvas evolved in drizzles and waves of warm color.
First up was Beaty Heart, sent to us from Sofar’s home base in London. Looping melodies and lyrics, they layered organic sounds including their own vocals, animalistic cries and instruments such as a “gourd piano”. The effect was almost that of an indie-pop chant, with songs that ended suddenly, never quite where I expected it.
Next came Aabaraki, a local, soulful quartet with witty, sexy lyrics and resonant sound to spare. From the hilarious lyrics of “Karate” (your booty, your body/it hits like karate/the kung-fu, the come thru/jiu-jitsu, i need you) to the deeper grove of “Girl”, they readily expressed their interest in the lovely ladies. But even when those feelings bordered on edgy, the wink in Aabaraki’s signature style won us over, song after song.
Then we were on to Leah Siegel of Firehorse, a longstanding favorite of our NYC organizers. Leah, whose style has been compared with that of Jeff Buckley, claims she’s not used to playing stripped-down sets, but her mastery of echoing electric guitar and tension-building vocals suggests otherwise. With a storytelling lyrical style and incredible control of her vocal range, you could easily have heard a pin drop anywhere in the expanisve Cole Haan space.
Topaz Jones, who had played earlier this month at our gig in Williamsburg, surprised our MC, Jodie, with a surprise performance of their hip-hop and symphonic band blend. It was a downsized sound from their prior performance, but their energy and creativity were still running high.
Last but not least, the Texan troubadours of Seryn. This six-piece newgrass band harnesses the power of both sudden silence and layered vocal harmonies. They also demonstrated an impressive range of instrumental skill. One member of the band, for example, jumped from playing a xylophone with a bow to percussion, followed by a finger-picking banjo solo. Evoking both hope and nostalgia, their mature lyrics were as resonant as the band’s multi-layered sound, and it’s safe to say we all can’t wait for their next trip to NYC.
And to end on the right foot – a huge thank you to our hosts at Cole Haan. Not only did they provide a beautiful space, but all of the artists took home a pair of snazzy new kicks!