By Sarah Lucie
New York City is rife with enchantment, especially in the early days of summer, when the city itself is intoxicated with outdoor happy hours and picnics in the park. But one event guaranteed to deliver magic, each and every time, is a night at Sofar. On this sunny June evening, music fans found themselves at the chaotic nexus of Little Italy and Chinatown, where a narrow flight of stairs delivered us into a musical haven—albeit a hot one. But music this good is well worth a little communal sweat.
First up was the mesmerizing Julia Easterlin, an established Sofar favorite whose ethereal music is downright transportive. Armed with only a loop station and her irrepressibly pliant voice, she fills the room with layer upon layer of sound. There’s a meditative quality to her gentle, but pointed specificity—as if she plucks sound from the air and pins it down with the help of the loop pedal. Each song begins with an array of percussive sounds, ranging from guttural to breathy, layered with varying harmonies, and finally topped off with her clean but sultry soprano. She sings, “I write my own damn constitution” in the effervescent “Whiskey,” and it appears that she does just that—breaking all the rules and bringing her unique voice to that newly expanded space. Ben Flax also appeared for a saxophone solo, adding another level of depth and complexity to Julia’s hypnotic sound.
We awoke from the dream of Julia Easterlin to the bluegrass-infused folk tunes of T.H.E.M, college friends of Easterlin with a sound all their own. The three ladies, Tamsin, Hannah and Megan, all wield guitars, while switching in a fiddle and ukulele for range and variety. They alternate as lead singers as well, but no matter who takes the lead, the group comes alive with crisp harmonies. A cover of Dirk Powell’s “Waterbound” revealed the group’s connection to rural American tradition, supplemented by their own brand of quiet intensity.
The evening shifted dramatically with the introduction of Seasick Mama, a Brooklyn-based indie-rock band featuring the uncontainable Marial Maher, accompanied by Dylan, Gianni and Will on guitar, bass and drums. Marial explodes with a rough, unbridled voice as she romps about the stage, shifting between a fragile breathiness to a wild punk scream reminiscent of Gwen Stefani’s early days. Every song resonates with the seething passion of a voice that refuses to be taught or categorized, whether backed by a pop, reggae or rock beat. Seasick Mama’s vibe can be summed up with one repeated mantra from the first single off their new EP—“Quit your job, and just be free.”
And finally, Treetop Flyers, a British country-soul band, arrrived from the airport just in time to finish up the night. What’s usually a five-piece band arrived only with three guitarists, Reid, Sam and Laurie, showing off the intricate, undulating guitar arrangements behind the surprisingly affecting lead vocals. The trio creates a sounds so lush that bands with more members might be jealous, evoking the fresh, breezy quality of the California canyons despite the New York City heat.
Photos by Jose Camargo