HomeConcert Review: Sonos at Jammin' Java

Jeeves's picture

Early October 09, to a packed house at Jammin' Java, the announcer grabbed the mic, and with a few quick words, an eruption of sound filled the air.  Six people, fresh from the left coast, took the stage.  Checking their pedals and their mics, they blew the pitch, and the night had begun.

Sonos is an a cappella group coming out of the SoCal college a cappella scene.  Their purpose?  From their MySpace page: “to turn the genre on its head.”  Sonos is a combination of six voices: Rachel Bearer, Jessica Freedman, Christopher Harrison, Kathy Hoye, Ben Mclain, and Paul Peglar.  The group is comprised of all music majors, but not the snooty kind.  A couple jazz vocalists, some opera singers, a composition major, and even some theater, this group really brings it all.  Coming together, this group (again from their MySpace page) “reinvents a 21st century songbook with bold reinterpretations of vital indie artists who inspire” them. 

The little I had heard of this group from YouTube videos and clips from their MySpace page didn't prepare me enough for the kinds of close harmonies that came from their mouths.  Their first song, White Winter Hymnal by Fleet Foxes, was absolutely gorgeous.  The beautiful tones from Jessica's solo at the frontend of the song really set the stage for a number filled with amazing chords and warm voicing.  It’s the kind of warmth you feel on a winter’s day, curled up on the couch under your favorite blanket, with a fire going, your puppy sleeping next to you, drinking hot chocolate, while reading the latest Nicholas Sparks novel (if you don’t know what I’m talking about, try it sometime).  The word impassioned comes to mind, yet the music they make seems so genuinely effortless.

From that, Sonos moved into a more contemporary set with octavized bass and some cool effects on the perc.  But the effects don't take anything away from the incredible arrangements and amazing harmonies. 

Speaking with Ben before the show, I asked if all or most of their songs are originals.  He surprised me saying that they’re all covers.  The reason for my astonishment is because of the originality of the arrangements - it’s hard to notice.  The arrangements are deliciously complex, elegantly entangling their six voices together.  Another reason for the original sound is that their song choice is more “indie,” as most people call it.  Their repertoire includes stuff from The Bird & The Bee (“Again & Again”), their now famous rendition of I Want You Back by The Jackson 5 (Search “Sonos” on YouTube – first hit), and a beautiful duet between Jessica and Kathy by Bon Iver called “Re: Stacks

Speaking of whom - the females in the group, besides being beautiful, have that ability to play off each other, something that comes only from 1) people that have sung together for a while and 2) people that LIKE singing together.  You'd think those two things are partially synonymous, but I promise you they aren't.  After the show, I was speaking with Rachel about this.  She felt like there was something that just naturally clicked between the three of them when they first got together.  That “click” combined with a regimented rehearsal schedule helps to manifest that effortless sound that I mentioned earlier, something that is most evident in their interpretation of “Come Here Boy” by Imogen Heap.  The girls’ voices become so intertwined with each other that an illusion is created –the three voices seemingly coming from one person.

But the guys aren’t there just to make the girls look good.  The perc, Ben, has a solid style as well as being able to sing!  I heard quite a few people after the show talking about his solo on Yoav’s “Club Thing.”  The fourth song in their set, “Joga” by Bjork, really shows off the guys' ability to hold the foundation of the song and let it ride.  The song also shows off the pipes of their mezzo, Rachel.

One of my favorite songs throughout the night was Paul’s solo on Rufus Wainwright’s “Oh, What a World.”  The important thing that I think this group has found is not trying to force a song to fit a voice, but letting the voice fit the song.  This song was absolutely perfect for Paul, and he milked it.  Fantastic!

You can ask anyone that knows me.  I’m pretty picky about musical artists.  Mention any artist and I promise I’ll give you my opinion, without holding anything back.  That being said, here is what I think of Sonos.  With their individual voices and their amazing arrangements, this group is unstoppable.  The show was absolutely amazing.  They were accepted by an audience that is used to mostly dry a cappella (a cappella minus the effects).  Not only were they accepted, but they were warmly embraced.  My only qualm with their set was the tempo of the night.  I felt like most of their songs were from slow to medium tempo.  There wasn’t much upbeat stuff to speak of.  They also started slow and ended slow (though the real ending was an encore).  I’d love for them to add a couple of really upbeat songs to their rep.  Did it take away from the show?  Hell no.  They’re still an amazing performing group – one definitely worth seeing!

That being said, I’m so excited for this group.  They are such a great group of people – the kind of people you want to sit down and have a beer with (I should know, cause I did).  If you haven’t had a chance to see them, drop everything.  I hope that I am lucky enough to cross paths with them again – sooner rather than later.  Check them out on MySpace, YouTube, and if you like what you hear, spend the measly 10 bucks in the iTunes Music Store and buy their CD.  That’s all you’ll need to get hooked - that’s all it took for me.

~Jeeves Murphy

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aDzirncym4w – I Want You Back