Live Review: TOS at The Pleasant Cafe

TOS at The Pleasant Cafe

photo by Geoff Wilbur


The Pleasant Cafe, Maynard, MA

July 9, 2016

The Backstory

I stumbled across an announcement for this show a few days ago while scanning a list of local events. So I checked out TOS’s music and was extremely impressed by the songs posted on the band’s YouTube channel. After that, I looked at the band’s website, and I was shocked to learn the band members were all aged 16-20. So much talent for such a young band. I was glad I was able to fit the band’s Saturday show into my schedule.

TOS at The Pleasant Cafe

photo by Geoff Wilbur

The Concert

TOS delivers alt-rock with a modern edge and an old-school haunting vocal wail. Vocally, I hear a bit of Lush and perhaps a hint of Cocteau Twins, but TOS’s music is much more broadly accessible, more rocking. TOS’s repertoire of songs is mostly mid-tempo but with some variance, the music is engaging, and I’d pit this band against the best bar bands in any town. It’s also music that translates well to the studio, which is a bonus.

This particular gig was TOS’s album release show, launching its disc Killer. For the first set, in fact, the band performed its new album beginning to end. The second set featured some of the band’s new songs and some old ones.

Before I get any farther, I should point out something that’s apparent from the beginning. There can be no mistake. The original, unique flavor that is TOS emanates from the voice, phrasing, and songwriting of Sophia Ward. The rest of the band is tight and talented, and they have exceptional rapport on stage and, I can only assume, in the studio. Such a strong band by itself can be a bar scene favorite; add strong songwriting and an identifiable, memorable vocalist, and you have lightning in a bottle.

TOS at The Pleasant Cafe

photo by Geoff Wilbur

Each band member contributes memorable segments to the songs – each, in fact, carries some of the songs. Lead guitarist Jackson Parker contributes well-placed, song-moving solos. Rhythm guitarist Jonathan Sommer provides memorably catchy hooks, particularly during a few of the songs on which he wields the acoustic axe. Bass player Jae Mannion keeps a steady rhythm, more noticeable on this evening during the second set, when he more often delivered the catchy hooks that held the songs together. And skinsman Mitch Rolla occasionally goes beyond just keeping a steady beat, providing subtle drum fills that add needed texture as a backdrop behind the melodies, noticeable for those who paid attention on several of the tunes performed this evening.

The first set opened with “Death of Me,” a song that combines Sophia’s haunting vocals with driving rhythm and a steady beat. One of the catchier songs on the album, it’s a solid welcome to the album and served to grab the audience’s attention from the very start of the evening. It was followed by “Soul Keeper,” a song that augments great vocal tone with an engaging song structure that builds to power before stopping cold in places. “Cry Baby,” meanwhile, was a bit poppier, driven by an energetic acoustic guitar line and what I can best describe as oh-so-cool, “That Thing You Do”-esque drumming.

I’d love to go song-by-song through the set, but I’ll just mention a couple more of the standouts. “Reckless” is a raucous rocker in which the bass line stands out as a sneaky-monster hook while featuring a nice little guitar solo and showcasing the singer’s vocal power and a few nice vocal flourishes. And set album-closer “Killer” is a powerful song whose tone, vocals, drumming, and even the speed-acoustic guitar solo recall a lava lamp-and-black light, late ’60s/early ’70s classic rock vibe.

TOS at The Pleasant Cafe

photo by Geoff Wilbur

The band opened the second set with a great cover of the Beatles “In My Life,” then slipped into a straight up hoarse-vocalled alt-rock number, “Best You’ve Ever Had.”

Other notable tunes in the second set included “Primadonna,” a driving pop song with a somewhat different sound featuring a little bluesy and funky rhythm; “Alphabet Hate,” a sad but thoughtful song that’s delivered a bit angry; “Side Effects,” a slow, rhythmic, steady balladic song with a hint of a ’70s rock singer-songwriter vibe; and “Without You,” a poppy alt-rocker with a hooky bass rhythm and slick electric guitar solo that doubles as an audience participation clap-along song. The set closed with “Money,” a tune with a prominent bass line and blistering-though-subtle guitar solo that showcases the singer’s otherwordly trademark alt-rock vocal wail.

With the crowd calling for an encore, TOS delivered the goods with “You Don’t Know.” Featuring a strong bass line and catchy rhythm guitar that seems to both mimic and mock the vocals, this is a song that brings the energy level in the room to a fever pitch. Talk about ending the show on a high note!

Brimming with talent, don’t dismiss this band because of its youth; TOS could rock any bar in Boston… or New York… or London with those cities’ best. These musicians are ready for a big stage. I can’t wait to hear what they do next.

Looking Ahead

TOS has three shows listed on its website: July 24th at The Raven in Worcester, MA; August 5th at Canobie Lake Park in Salem, NH; and August 8th at the Natick Commons in Natick, MA. Keep an eye on the band’s website for additional upcoming dates.

Also expect to see a review of the band’s album, Killer, on this website in the coming months. I have a few albums in the queue ahead of it, but I have a copy of the disc and look forward to penning its review.

4 thoughts on “Live Review: TOS at The Pleasant Cafe

  1. Pingback: Geoff’s Night Out: TOS at Solomon Pond Mall | Geoff Wilbur's Music Blog

  2. Pingback: Album Review: TOS – Killer | Geoff Wilbur's Music Blog

  3. Pingback: Live Review: Ibby at The Farmer’s Daughter | Geoff Wilbur's Music Blog

  4. Pingback: Live Review: Sophia Ward at Twin Seafood | Geoff Wilbur's Music Blog

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