Twin Seafood, Acton, MA
August 26, 2017
Yes, you know Sophia. She’s the lead singer of TOS, who I’ve reviewed twice live (here and here) in addition to my review of the band’s CD Killer. This is, however, my first time seeing her perform solo, something that will be more typical now with former TOS band members no longer all living in the same region of the country (though you can count on me doing my best to cover the anticipated reunions shows).
Twin Seafood in Acton has a large patio/deck, ideal for eating outside on a pleasant summer evening; it’s also well-designed for live music on such a night, especially for those of us who like early shows (it started at 6:00 PM), accompanied by dinner… or at least a little delicious chowder.
I stayed through Sophia’s first set, all 18 songs, and discovered she’s quite capable of mixing things up with just a voice and an acoustic guitar, providing varying tempos and underlying sounds to keep things interesting. And, of course, there’s her exceptional, easily identifiable voice – for a career that extends beyond being a local musician, that’s a must, and it’s a primary reason I’m so confident this young woman has a very high career ceiling.
With acknowledgement that I may have mangled some song titles…
Sophia kicked things off with “Childhood,” a song with a good tempo that reaffirmed my expectations – she’s creatively adept with song structures, this one featuring well-placed stops for emphasis, and those well-designed songs transfer well to a solo performance. She also used a bit of echo on her vocal on this particular evening, an effect that works well with her characteristically, uniquely memorable, often-somewhat-haunting voice. After “Childhood,” the next song up was “California,” a song that featured that haunted, edgy thing she does with her voice, in this case in spite of the lyrics.
In addition to the many new songs on her setlist, Sophia performed a few songs from TOS’s Killer album. The first of those was “Cry Baby,” at the request of a very young new fan to play something cheerful; I’ve always loved the energy of that tune.
Sophia interestingly paired “Wait” and “Without You.” “Wait” is a new song that’s sparse and mellow, with the tempo combining with her vocal timbre to drive home the lyrics’ indecision. She then immediately brought the tempo back up with emphatic strumming on “Without You.” And there’s something about the way she drops “without you” after “dyin'” that makes me smile; it’s oddly amusing (in a serious way).
A few songs later, Sophia unleashed the immediately appealing “Wild Card,” a tune in which she strings some words together quickly, blended with a bit of a modernized ’50s vibe. The song has a cool energy, especially unique as its sound is noticeably absent of Sophia’s frequent haunting vocal overtones.
She followed that with the second of her three songs of the set from Killer, “The One.” A standout track from the album, as a solo acoustic number she adds even more texture to the vocals, hitting a few more high notes, too.
Another song well worth highlighting is “Pipe Dream,” a tune that seems to float a little otherworldly. Particularly in contrast to the hint of uneasiness Sophia conveys vocally in so many of her songs, this one is truly a mellow and pleasant number.
“Years Ago,” a song that comes across as an acoustic version of a radio hit-style tune but with a hint of a mildly radio-unfriendly alt-rock vibe – one of those songs that’d get radio play while still being considered edgy – builds tension with energy.
The lyrics and tempo of “Heaven in a Girl” go along well with a strumming guitar. Lyrically clever and well-constructed, this song moves along with direction and energy, not just lyrically but musically as well.
The next song, “Your New Girl,” had a kind of surf rock recurring riff with an interesting stop and go tempo that carried a hint of a favorite band I initially couldn’t place (before realizing it was TOS). The tempo of this song was such that it had my toes tapping to the rhythm by halfway through. It was followed by “Keep You,” a song with prominent guitar-plucking and soaring structure and vocals.
Sophia ended her set with what eventually became my favorite track from Killer, “Mouthful,” which is just as haunting and enchanting solo as with a full band. Of course, it was one of the most vocals- and lyrics-driven songs on Killer, so its easy conversion to solo acoustic performance isn’t surprising. The emphatic stops and vocal flows and runs are very cool in this one. And a great way to end the set, after which I headed home with enough time to watch a movie and still catch the early news. (Yes, I do like early shows.)
At the end of the day, Sophia Ward is well worth the price of admission. There’s a strong future ahead for this singer/songwriter. I always enjoy hearing her new songs, and I look forward to seeing how her career develops from here. With continued hard work – it’s obvious she’s doing that already – and some good fortune, she’ll play a lot of big stages in her career.