HomeBlogsAriel's blogPerformance Review: Sonos, Live In Seattle

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I just saw Sonos live at the Fremont Abbey Arts Center in Seattle. I haven't heard anything Sonos has recorded yet - just lots of good chatter from friends like local music blog Comfort Music, who did an extensive interview with Sonos last week before the group made the trek up north to the Pacific Northwest to perform. So nowhere in this blog will you find a comparison to their CD. I'm trying to decide if that's a good or a bad thing for the purposes of this blog, but I think I'll just go with it.

Sonos sang to a packed house, standing room only - and don't let the origins of M-Pact or the Coats fool you, Seattle is not currently an a cappella hub by any means. But Sonos got a standing ovation and were signing autographs on CDs afterward. I hope they realize how huge a success that is for this notoriously hipper-than-thou music snob town.

It was clear the group really has an artistic vision. Sonos calls themselves a vocal collective. I really like this term, and I think it accurately describes what they do better than vocal band or a cappella group. I am pro more groups experimenting with different terms if "a cappella" is a hindrance to mainstream popularity.

Their artistry was really evident in the effective arranging and subtle performance. I mean subtle only in the sense that they never over-sang, or made chintzy gestures, or pulled any other gimmick common to a cappella. Their vocal performances were dynamic and the interpretations unique; the soloists were top notch across the board. Tuning was nearly flawless; I barely even thought about pitch during the show, which is difficult for me to do during a cappella performances. Subtle blocking changes mixed up their visual presence on stage throughout their set, and it was professional and well done. They had an octavizer and an effects pedal, which they used judiciously. All three guys in the group - Paul Peglar, Christopher Given Harrison, and Benjamin Mclain - used the octavizer throughout to sing bass lines. In fact, so did Katherine Anne Hoye on I Want You Back, a neat choice on a song where the guys weren't actually already in use.

The group's arrangements really lent themselves to live performance. They used a lot of open vowel syllables with a modern feel, and I think that helped the songs remain accessible to a crowd that would have been turned off by doo-wop but not quite ready for Off the Beat-style syllable, er, creativity. Their arrangements relied on texture, layers and great voices, not unnecessary words or nonsense syllables in the backing parts. It was refreshing, and I'm curious to see if and how their album arrangements are different.

It's hard to pick out the best moments from their set. A cover of Bjork's Joga was definitely my favorite song of the night. This song is quirky, it's random, it has 5/4 sections in odd places, and, well, it's Bjork. Christopher Harrison's arrangement was sublime, and Rachel Bearer gave a nuanced and markedly non-imitative performance on the lead. She, along with everyone in Sonos, had great presence on her solos.

The eerie cover of the Jackson 5's I Want You Back also makes my list. Sonos completely deconstruct and rebuild the song, creating a moody, atmospheric revision that is so much more interesting than the cheery original.

Sonos ended the show by bringing a cappella back to its most basic form. The Fremont Abbey, you see, is an old converted....abbey. There is lovely chapel upstairs, and Sonos led the audience up the stairs to the chapel and sang their last two songs - Re:Stacks by Bon Iver and Gravity by Sara Bareilles/Awaken - truly a cappella, "in the style of the chapel." They were just as tight and the harmonies just as gorgeous off mike as they were on their sound system, and just voices was a memorable way to end the show.

I recommend any a cappella fan see Sonos perform if they come to your city.



So glad to hear that their

So glad to hear that their performance was so compelling!  Thanks for giving us all the inside scoop, Ariel.  If you liked them, they must be legit.  I can't wait to see them when they come to NYC soon.

Meanwhile, if anyone would like to hear a review of their debut album SonoSings, including sample clips, check out the latest episode of Mouth Off: http://www.mouthoffshow.com/2009/09/www-mouthoffshow-com/

Definitely a group worth paying attention to!

--Dave Brown

now: Mouth Off host | ICCA & CARA Judge

then: CASA president, CASAcademy director, CASA Bd of Directors | BYU Vocal Point | Noteworthy co-foun

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