Live Review: Sophia Ward at Twin Seafood

Sophia Ward at Twin Seafood

photo by Geoff Wilbur

Sophia Ward

Twin Seafood, Acton, MA

August 26, 2017

The Backstory

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).

Sophia Ward at Twin Seafood

photo by Geoff Wilbur

The Concert

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 Ward at Twin Seafood

photo by Geoff Wilbur

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.

Sophia Ward at Twin Seafood

photo by Geoff Wilbur

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 Ward at Twin Seafood

photo by Geoff Wilbur

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.

Looking Ahead

Keep an eye on Sophia’s Facebook page and her website for future performance information.

Album Review: TOS – Killer

TOS

photo courtesy of TOS

TOS – Killer

The Backstory

For those of you who read my review of TOS’s CD release show, you know the backstory. I stumbled across this incredibly talented young band solely because I was looking for some live music here in the outer Boston suburbs one weekend. I’ve been listening to the Killer CD ever since, including most days during my commute. (I have also more recently reviewed another of the band’s concerts, and I may continue reviewing their shows regularly if they keep scheduling gigs a whole lot closer to my house than any of my other favorite local bands.)

Album Review of TOS: Killer

TOS - Killer

image courtesy of TOS

TOS is a rock band with timeless songwriting, talented musicianship, and a unique, identifiable, modern sound.

The band is led by singer/songwriter Sophia Ward, whose sensitive-but-powerful, often haunting vocals provide an appealing delivery of her well-crafted lyrics; both the delivery and songwriting lend artistic credibility to TOS, a band that can be easily considered both rockers and artists.

Her comrades are talented enough to be up for the task. Many of the songs seem to be driven by the rhythm guitar, generally acoustic, delivered ably in varied stylistic formats by Jonathan Sommer. This frees up lead guitarist Jackson Parker to add texture to the songs with his electric axework, his solos proving difference-makers on a few tracks. Then there’s the rhythm section. For the most part I’d label bassist Jae Mannion and drummer Mitch Rolla as steady and dependable. Occasionally one or the other will add a hook or featured run to a song while the other holds down the rhythm fort; the two work together well as a team.

TOS

photo courtesy of TOS

The album-opener “Death of Me” is the standout on the disc, though it’s one of a half-dozen I’d consider exceptional. But this song is appealing on multiple fronts. It introduces the listener to both Sophia’s quintessential somewhat haunting vocal and her occasionally called-upon insistent wail, the strumming rhythm guitar that propels most of the song, the subtlety of the rhythm section (there’s an occasionally recurring bass hook that unassumingly raises the song’s memorability level), and a lead guitar line adds texture in fortuitous spots. As a result, it’s a potential fan favorite with staying power.

Throughout Killer, it’s the variety on the disc that helps it stand up over multiple listens. That begins with the songwriting. There are a couple of my favorite lines that exhibit the lyrical cleverness I look for.

First, during the band’s anti-love song, “Need This Love” – one of my favorites – in a tone that reaches sadly into the soul, supported by a blues-infused rhythm, you’ll hear “I need this love/To go away/’Cause all it’s brought/Is tears and hate.” Great blues lyrics from this alt-rock outfit.

TOS

photo courtesy of TOS

Also, in “Mouthful.” Musically, this song crept up on me but is now on heavy rotation on my stereo. Sophia’s voice dances around the melody deftly in fits and spurts in this one. It’s moody, at times either sultry or sadly angry, and delivers another of my favorite lines on this disc, “Your biggest mistake starts with my name.”

Oh, but the songs get deeper. “Ghost,” anyone? Another haunting song with powerful musical builds and tempo variance. It’s a catchy song you’ll find yourself singing along with, one of the standout tracks on the disc… about being abducted in the woods and held captive. It’s jolting every time you realize what you’re singing along to, but it’s oh-so-well-written.

Lest you think the album’s serious and/or angry, don’t. Even the aforementioned songs are fun listens in all their seriousness. Also, at the absolute opposite end of the spectrum, beginning with an electric guitar riff that’d make a ’70s metal band proud before flowing into a rather pop-rocking, energetic song, is “Reckless.” A partying song that features an excellent, well-placed electric guitar solo.

TOS

photo courtesy of TOS

Another amusing tune that’s a personal favorite is “Cry Baby,” an energetic, rock-strumming-driven ditty with the electric axe line almost a modern twist on ’60s surf rock-style guitar.

And while “Soul Keeper” is yet another relationship song that’s not exactly cheerful, it’s not all romantic doom and gloom in TOS’s repertoire. “Waterfall” is reminiscent and wistful, while “The One” is rather romantic and hopeful, even if its opening reveals that it’s a bit neurotically so.

The disc closes, though, with its title track, “Killer.” Another anti-romantic song. The guitar line is like something Metallica would come up with if it were to write a heavy alt-rock song. And “Killer” does, indeed, close the album emphatically with power-howled vocals, aggressive stop-start drumming, mile-a-minute acoustic guitar picking… every tool in TOS’s kit but the kitchen sink. The ideal album-ender to leave the listener content and out of breath.

So yeah, I’ve been enjoying having this CD in my car the last several weeks. It’s a rockin’ disc from a tight, talented group, containing enough depth and musical variety to remain interesting across dozens of listens.

TOS at The Pleasant Cafe

photo by Geoff Wilbur

Looking Ahead

Get out to hear TOS if you can. This is absolutely one of the best live bands in Boston. TOS’s next performance is Saturday, September 10th at the Remember September Music Festival in Brockton, MA. The band also has an upcoming Saturday, September 24th gig (11:00 AM-1:00 PM for you morning people) at the 22nd Annual Weston Car Show in Weston, MA, a Saturday, October 1 early afternoon (2:00 PM) set at MaynardFest in Maynard, MA, and a Friday, October 10th gig at Out of the Blue Too Art Gallery in Cambridge, MA with Company One and Pillbook. Check the band’s website for more information on those gigs and others as they’re added. You can also sign up for their mailing list like I did.

Geoff’s Night Out: TOS at Solomon Pond Mall

TOS at Solomon Pond Mall

photo by Geoff Wilbur

TOS

Solomon Pond Mall, Marlborough, MA

August 26, 2016

The Backstory

If you read my review of TOS’s CD release gig in July, you’ll understand why I couldn’t pass up an opportunity to see these guys so close to my home, at the mall I drive past 2-3 days a week on my way to my favorite breakfast joint for an omelet and my personal playlist. Yesterday morning, in fact, my phone shuffled up TOS as part of my playlist, which I shared on Twitter, as I often do. Yesterday evening, I stopped at the mall to see one of my now-favorite local bands.

TOS at Solomon Pond Mall

photo by Geoff Wilbur

The Concert

I’ve never seen a concert in a mall before. This is a band with the talent to make this concert an excellent first.

Because I’ve provided in-depth coverage of TOS before and (spoiler alert) will soon complete my review of the band’s album Killer, I’ll focus mostly on the songs performed and the flow of the concert; and though I won’t mention every song, I’m able to mention each song by name and offer a much more detailed review because I had access to a set list while scribbling my notes. Always a helpful bonus.

The gang opened with “Reckless,” filling the corridors with boundless energy. They followed it with “Not My Love,” combining a funky beat with a unique, varied tempo; the song closed with a nice guitar solo and flowed well into “Soul Keeper.”

TOS at Solomon Pond Mall

photo by Geoff Wilbur

“Primadonna” is a live favorite of mine; it’s a good boppin’, catchy pop rocker but with a bit of vocalist Sophia Ward’s haunting howl. TOS then slowed things down a bit on “Mouthful,” a personal favorite from the band’s recent release, Killer, before bringing the energy back with “(Dyin’) Without You,” another boppin’ alt-rock song with a good tempo and another well-suited guitar solo from lead guitarist Jackson Parker.

On haunting album standout “Ghost,” bass player Jae Mannion stepped forward to provide prominent support vocals, adding texture to the song’s sound. Next on “Cry Baby,” another of my personal favorites – a song my wife and I were singing as we arrived home after the show, in fact – I really enjoyed Mitch Rolla’s punched-up ’50 soda shop-reminiscent drumming that provided the song with a fresh feel.

Some other songs stood out, as well. “Side Effects,” for example, kicked off with almost a ’70s jet-setting start, a little psychedelic.

“Death of Me” is as much a treat live as it is on the recording, in part because it’s a song that very obviously and prominently features contributions from all five band members. Sophia’s trademark haunting vocals are supported by a great strumming opening, an important electric guitar line, drumming that defines the stops and starts that propel the song, and a bass part that contributes the key hook.

TOS at Solomon Pond Mall

photo by Geoff Wilbur

“Crush” is a subtly interesting song; it’s solid and steady but made unique by a bit of a funhouse mirror edge to the vocals, electric guitar, and bass lines.

“A Better You” is a mellower acoustic guitar-strummer with sweet vocals and a hint of ’70s lounge-style jazz in both the vocals style and the wandering electric guitar line. “Need This Love” next amped things up with electric power; it has ’70s rock anthem-level power when it peaks. It was followed by “Waterfall,” the sensitive, flowing, raise-your-lighter song in the band’s repertoire.

“Sleep” is interesting, powered by its Wonders-esque (as in the That Thing You Do! Wonders) drumming. It also features the clever lyric “Don’t need love/I just need sleep.”

Finally, toward the end of the set, TOS presented its mellowest number “The One,” a primarily singer and acoustic guitar-driven song with a sensitive sound and sweet vocals showcasing singer Sophia Ward and acoustic guitarist Jonathan Sommer. The 21-song set closed with “Never Wanna See You Again,” utilizing a surf rock undercurrent to add texture to this otherwise growling rocker.

For an encore, the band performed “Killer,” the powerful rock song motored by exceptional acoustic guitar, powerful vocal wails, and an almost wall-of-sound feel. An ideal way to end a concert… and this most unusual evening at the mall.

TOS at Solomon Pond Mall

photo by Geoff Wilbur

Looking Ahead

TOS has three upcoming shows listed on its website: Friday, September 2nd at Sally O’Brien’s in Somerville, MA; Saturday, September 10th at the Remember September Music Festival in Brockton, MA; and Friday, October 7th at the Out of the Blue Too Art Gallery in Cambridge, MA. Keep an eye on the band’s website for additional upcoming dates. Also watch this blog in a couple weeks for a review of TOS’s recently released CD, Killer.

Geoff’s Night Out: TOS at The Pleasant Cafe

TOS at The Pleasant Cafe

photo by Geoff Wilbur

TOS

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.