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Review: Sofar Sounds so good at Boston HQ

Wyn and the White Light perform at Sofar Boston HQ

Wyn and the White Light perform at Sofar Boston HQ. Photos by Sasha Patkin.

The last time I went to a concert it was too loud, tall people stood in front of me the whole time, and canned beers cost $15. While there's a time and place for every experience, and there can be something wonderful about being crammed in one place with thousands of fans and watching your favorite act through a giant LED stage display, sometimes you want a cozier, more intimate setting.

I've been meaning to check out a Sofar Sounds concert for years, but was never quite sure what to expect, which is entirely by design. Based on the premise of hosting secret concerts in unique venues, Sofar promises a serendipitous and intimate concert-going experience.

The room set up:

Sofar room setup

Looking online I found 13 upcoming concerts in the Boston area in September alone, each concert identified only by its neighborhood, whether the hosting space is commercial or residential (all shows in Boston in September are currently listed as being in commercial venues), and, occasionally, an additional marker to note to distinguish the event as a rooftop show, at an outdoor patio, or in art gallery space. Sofar's website emphasizes their roots in a pass-the-hat type of performance, prioritizing fostering connection between artists and audience and ensuring equitable earnings for performers (who earn roughly 70 percent of the net profits from each show).

I selected a show in Davis Square and at 8:10 a.m. the day before, the address of the concert was revealed to me as the Sofar Boston Headquarters, noting that there would be mostly floor seating and that you could bring your own alcohol and small snacks.

The vibe was corporate speakeasy as I arrived at office headquarters when the time came. A cheerful woman standing inside a bright white hallway greeted us, dressed in a very trendy all-black outfit. "Names?" she beamed, and checked us off the list.

Right around the time the doors were opening, I received another email in my inbox introducing the lineup: Wyn Doran (performing as Wyn and the White Light), Radha, and Old Tom & the Lookouts (tonight, just Tom performing). The email also gave photos, bios, and blurbs about each and a way to follow each of them.

I discovered this email only after I got home, as by that time, I had already stepped into the concert venue and was preoccupied with oohing and awwing the setup. The contrast to the drab, bland office hallway was stark. Southwestern-style blankets and pillows were strewn across the floor. The room was washed in a warm yellow light cast by string lights, and gave the impression of a stylish urban apartment going on a glamping trip. Retro magazines, houseplants, and record players decorated the space, which exuded a cozy and inviting energy, enhanced by the soul and funk music playing in the background. Half of the room served as an active office area, where a few individuals still seemed to be working, a scene that brought to mind NPR's Tiny Desk concerts. There were about 18 cushions and blankets alongside chairs and standing room options. Around 40 people ended up showing up, which I thought was an impressive turnout for a Tuesday night, especially considering the frequency of events hosted throughout the week in Boston.

First up was Wyn Doran, performing with Lucia Jean on bass as Wyn and the White Light. They introduced their style as "soul rock," and explained that they were also selling soul rocks at the front door - literal rocks you could buy to support them (you choose the one that speaks to your soul, get it?). They gave off an appreciatively New England witchy vibe, offering tarot readings over Instagram and announcing an upcoming equinox party celebration show. "There will be therapeutic screams," they promised, beginning their set.

Jean's bass growled out deep, steadying tones, over which Doran's powerful vocals rose shuddering with passion and edged with grit. Her voice was occasionally electronically distorted so that she sang in harmony with herself, and the contrast between the high, wavering vocals and the depth of the bass made the whole performance feel electrified. Their passionate vocals reminded me of 4 Non Blondes, their tight harmonies reminded me of Lucius, and their witchy, magical vibe added a third element that was entirely their own.

There was something therapeutic about their performance, which was delivered in purest form during their song "How the West Was Won," in which they asked for audience participation in a screaming call and response. "There's a lot to scream about and once you start the gates just sort of open," they encouraged the audience from the stage.

For their last song, they flipped the room. Positioned behind the audience, Doran strummed a ukulele while Jean added her mesmerizing harmonies to present an acoustic rendition of Amy Winehouse's "Back to Black." This alone would have been worth the price of admission and achieved what I was hoping to experience that night: an intimate performance that enveloped the audience in a hushed, trance-like state. The passionate and almost sacred aura was so profound that I hesitated to even lift my camera and break the spell with a photo.

Next was a 10-minute break, during which the host urged us to speak to one another about our favorite karaoke songs. Doran and Jean sat in the cushions beside me, and when the 10 minutes were over the host called out to the room for everyone's favorite songs (notables included "Complicated" by Avril Lavinge, "Superbass" by Nikki Minaj, "If I Ain't Got You" by Alicia Keys, "Mockingbird" by Eminem; thankfully we didn't also have to sing).

Radha performing on keyboard:

Radha on piano

Radha took the stage next. The host introduced her music and where people could find her, and also noted that she was in a viral TikTok last summer (which I think I remember seeing at the time) of her singing "All of You" by John Legend in Quincy Market as John Legend himself walked by and stopped to watch. (This was met with cheers, clapping, and surprised cries of "that was you!" from the audience).

Singing in an unplugged R&B style, Radha's soulful vocals were so smooth they seemed seamless. Her wandering, rich melodies were passionate and meditative, rising above her solo piano. She played original songs as well as a cover of Anna Nalick's "Breathe," all of which seemed perfectly suited for the space.

Old Tom and the Lookouts:

Old Tom and the Lookouts

Last, Old Tom and the Lookouts took the stage (“today he's just Tom and we get to be the lookouts," the host quipped as lead singer Alex Calabrese took the stage alone).

“Well I'm going to sing you a bunch of sad songs," Calabrese proclaimed, matter-of-factly. While many of his lyrics seemed to be about mental health and being vulnerable, his poppy folk-style guitar playing kept the mood upbeat and earnest.

“We're not going to do a lot of screaming, but we're going to do a lot of apologizing," he announced at the start of "Hey Edna," which included a call and response line "I'm sorry, Edna." Like the other performers, he ended with a cover: "Long December" by the Counting Crows.

All in all, the night delivered exactly what I hoped it would. It provided a platform to spotlight artists in a unique, intimate setting, and offered the chance to experience a show up close surrounded by a small, supportive crowd. While I was disappointed not to have gone to a Sofar shows in a residential space, I was impressed by their headquarters and will definitely check out some of their other venues in the area. I also appreciated that the night showcased local talent. As they introduced themselves, the artists also spoke of where else in Boston they would be playing next, allowing the night to unveil more than just the musicians in the room, but also the broader Boston music community.

Wyn and the White Light, Radha, and Old Tom and the Lookouts performing at the Boston Sofar Sounds Headquarters:

Review from the Independent Review Crew.

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Ear protection... your local hardware store carries them. Your 50 year old ears will thank you profusely

Voting closed 27

Can we have less of these streams of consciousness?

Voting closed 30

Can we have less of you? I'm sorry you lead such a miserable existence, but you don't need to inflict it on the rest of us.

Voting closed 68

you can simply not read it if you're not interested

Voting closed 45

I was wondering myself what the point of this post was. Unless an editorial decision has been made to start including concert reviews of specific niche bands for those interested. Although this one could have used some tightening up. If so, fine with me, I can just move on to the next, as you suggest.

Voting closed 20

If you look at Sasha's other reviews that I've run so far, she is not going to the big shows/exhibits that everybody else is.

I admit I like that. Maybe it will inspire some folks to see/hear things they might not otherwise have known about (and personally, as a Web-site owner in a city with a lot of media outlets, I like the idea of showcasing stuff other outlets don't).

I admit, I've never heard of the performers she saw for her most recent review, and likely won't suddenly start looking for tickets to their performances. What I found particularly interesting, though, was her description of the Sofar concept, which I didn't know anything about and which I'm thinking is pretty cool, especially in a region that lost venues due to the pandemic and which has long made it really hard to create small performance spaces.

Voting closed 54

Thank you for showing these. It's always awesome seeing some lesser-known parts of this city!

Voting closed 3

As an examination/review of the Sofar series, any news article ought spend some time on the economic model and whether they are treating artists fairly. There had been some criticism of how they handle artist $ and the rights on videos created during shows. I don't actually know how it has evolved in the last few years.

Voting closed 4

I liked it! This is clearly an editorial series written not as news but like - essentially you've added a Lifestyle/Arts/Culture reporter to your staff, and that genre of journalism is always a bit more storytelling and a bit lighter on APA Journalism style. Boston is a BAD town for small art/music and it's nice to see someone trying to cover that scene. Just like the Globe/big channels don't actually cover a lot of the hyper local news that UHub does, I feel like this series covers hyper local culture that also gets ignored.

ALSO, it was a USEFUL ARTICLE! I also had no idea this company was doing this sort of thing, and had never heard of any of these local performers. The narrative gave me an excellent idea of what going to one of these mystery box concerts would be like and I've now got it in my pocket as a fun activity when more musically-inclined guests come into town.

Wyn Doran and Old Tom and the Lookouts are both on Spotify, too, so I'll probably give both of them a quick lesson to see if it's my thing.

Voting closed 2


Voting closed 20

not less. and who are you to complain about streams of consciousness? 4 out of 5 of your comments are an incoherent mess

Voting closed 32

I just couldn't abide: 'corporate speakeasy.'

I just didn't need to hear that at all. Even if they exist, I wish they didn't.

Voting closed 14

Those two words loaded a pretty vivid image of the space when reading them IMO.

Voting closed 19

as they were quite dodgy with payment, which i guess is understandable given the business model. getting paid in exposure isn’t so great when your show is attended by like 15 people though.

regardless, this was like 7-8 years ago, and i have no experience with them since. so one can take what i’m saying with a grain of salt.


Voting closed 18

Shofar? It's the first Sunday of Advent already?

What happened to Autumn? Labor Day? Indian Summer? I haven't even had a pumpkin spice stuff yet!
It's too early, dagnabit!!!

Voting closed 9

Shofars are a major part of Jewish religious services for the High Holy Days of Rosh Hashanah (the new year) and Yom Kippur. This year, Rosh Hashanah starts at sundown Friday September 15.

I admit, I had no idea that shofars were connected with Advent.

Voting closed 10

I admit, I had no idea that shofars were connected with Advent.

Only tangentially, I admit. There are one or two hymns that build-in the possibility of using a shofar. ...and probably not too many pastors or music directors that would use them.

Trebelak's and Schwartz's show Godspell opens with the blowing of (something that might be) a shofar, and John the Baptist (in the wilderness) crying in the wilderness Prepare Ye The Way Of The Lord.
That's the New Testament, of course, and shows up in some form in all four Gospels. In the three-year calendar cycle for Mass (Roman Catholic, anyway), some form of that passage is the Gospel reading on the 2nd or 3rd Sunday of Advent in at least two of the years.

Voting closed 9

I appreciate you taking the time to write a thoughtful review of local artists I normally wouldn't hear about.

Voting closed 33

Thanks for sharing your experience at Sofar.
I’ve been curious how that works.

Great that local artists have places to showcase their music and make a little bread.

LiveNation and the large commercial venues in Boston are of another segment in the pyramid.

Voting closed 2

This is great stuff, a great addition to your blog.
I appreciate the spotlights you have been featuring on interesting things in the city.

Voting closed 19

I appreciate the insight into the Sofar experience, but I have to say I have never quite understood the concept. Kind of grim that the DIY community spaces in Allston that have hosted house shows for decades are all being knocked down, while this VC-backed, Airbnb-chic version of it in a "corporate speakeasy" pops up. And I don't really see the appeal of going to a concert but not knowing any of the artists or their communities. It's like a concert for people who like the idea of music more than any actual music itself.

Voting closed 3