It was a quiet night on Thursday (July 16) and the bands that were about to perform were setting their stages up.
Now, this wasn’t the expansive desert tundra of the Pemberton Music Festival or the idyllic Jericho Beach being attacked by vendors and lawn chairs in anticipation of the Vancouver Folk Music Festival.
No, guitars were being amped and tuned in the backyard of a house in Kitsilano while a crowd of about a hundred sat patiently on blankets that were laid out on the grass.
In a city where live performances are becoming must-sees and exclusivity is ever so popular, Sofar Sounds is something of a paradox.
Sofar Sounds was started in London, England in 2009, and has since expanded into 158 cities. The idea revolves around four or so musical acts playing for a crowd in an intimate setting, whether it be an office, a living room, or, like what Vancouver experienced on Thursday, a backyard.
Thursday’s performance marked the one-year anniversary of Sofar in Vancouver (the shows generally take place once a month), and it didn’t disappoint. Sofar prides itself on spotting and showcasing promising artists on the rise and in the case of Amine Bouzaher (aka Simple Machines), the organization was on the money. Having spotted him play at a coffee shop, the two Sofar reps couldn’t contain their excitement in bringing Bouzaher on stage.
Bouzaher started his set by explaining that he uses a loop machine to record sounds and then play over them in a funny bit of standup. He then proceeded to use the next half an hour showing us his talent with the ukulele, guitar, and a stripped-down violin.
With his man bun and songs with names like “Sonder”, Bouzaher captured the hearts of the crowd pretty quickly and it was hard to come to terms with the fact that one man was creating all the intricate sounds we were hearing. Some vocals would have helped—the entire set was instrumental—but he the man that calls himself Simple Machines showcased some pretty complex stuff.
The Sofar formula calls for a varied catalogue of performances in order to balance out genres and mood, so following up Simple Machines with Colby Morgan and the Catastrophes was a good call.
The six-piece started off its set with their aptly titled “Getting High by a Fence”. Admitting off the top that “we’re totally a rock band, this is the first time we’ve ever done anything acoustic,” the band didn’t seem out of place, hitting harmonies on cue with elements of violin and harmonica that blended well with Morgan’s soft growls. Morgan and crew are playing Electric Owl tonight (July 24) and with impossible-to-resist songs like “Eat You Alive”—which had the crowd in full on sing-along mode—it should be well attended.
Kristie McCracken was born and raised in Vancouver. Starting off her set with a warning, “This is gonna be super chill just so you know. Find someone to cuddle with,” McCracken was true to her word. “Lullaby” was the first song of the set, and in jean shorts with a wide-brim hat and an acoustic guitar, McCracken calmed the crowd down with her soaring voice. Did it stun the vibe of the crowd a little bit? Sure, but it may have been needed. It was when people were generally heading into their fourth beers of the night on a Thursday, after all.
Ending her set with an ode to the environment that she played for the first time without her former band (the rhythm and blues group the Ponderosas), McCracken was a force. She was loud, timid, brave, and humble, in that order. It took dogs started barking up a storm in the background to remember that we were back in a residential neighbourhood in Kits. They were probably just jealous, like those girls in high school.
It was another tonal switch-up from the Sofar crew, with L.A.-based TV Girl taking the stage. The three-piece that had extra members to keep the elements of their sound in a backyard setting admitted that “We are straight up and electronic group and we aren’t making any changes.” And “it’s pretty Avant-garde shit.” Clearly versed in the finer points of throwing a concert, the band insisted on everyone in the crowd standing up and dancing to the fun keyboards and easy harmonies. And it was hard to. Songs like “Birds Don’t Sing” and “Melanie” got the feet moving while reminding everyone of someone they know.
It was a fitting goodbye from Sofar as it finished off an evening that was a microcosm of what the event has become known for. As a bunch of people danced in a backyard on a summer day, you kinda got the feeling that it doesn’t really get much better than this. That might be the fourth beer talking though.