Sunday, October 18, 2015

Raquel Sofia at Gusman Concert Hall: Household Name in the Making

tiny desk concert

My never ending search for intimate concert experiences may have reached a pinnacle last night at the University of Miami's Maurice Gusman Concert Hall as part of Festival Miami. This was a convergence of perfect venue and perfect timing to see an artist who is well on her way to become huge and uncontainable by a tiny theater like this. Already, Raquel Sofia was nominated for a Latin Grammy which if nothing else, means that the world is noticing her, as they should. I had been excited to see her, but last night she delivered way beyond what I was expecting. And by the way, she's a UM grad, so it was a homecoming for her which added to the whole thing.

To be honest, the venue was in some ways, maybe too restrained and fancy for me. As a matter of fact, when we walked in we got free cough drops which is, I guess, a way to keep the old people coughing in check. Not gonna lie, I wound up sucking down at least one of those delicious watermelon cough drops before the night was over. But I digress. . .

raquel sofiaRaquel and her band took the stage and went right into one of my favorite songs off her first album, the jazzy title track, "Te Odio Los Sabados." And right off it was the first surprise of the night since I hadn't realized she played piano, too. Instantly the sound in the place blew me away and I was starting to think I needed to see every concert ever in this place with the perfect acoustics, no matter how fancy. But more than that, Raquel established a presence the second she filled that theater with her voice. She then explained that the last time she'd been on that stage it was for her senior recital and had apparently messed up her piano section, so she was nervous but anxious to redeem herself. Well, spoiler alert: she nailed it. 

te odio los sabadosShe then went into "Lo Que Te Di" which is a reggae infused pop song that opens her album. Here's where redemption started for me. While I had been excited to see her, based mainly on her Tiny Desk concert and other live videos on YouTube, once I heard the whole album I have to admit I was a little worried that the concert would be much more poppy than I would be willing to deal with. There's nothing wrong with pop, necessarily. Hell, I like some pretty poppy shit at the end of the day. But on the album, some of the songs feel like they're constrained by a production designed for more mass appeal. The raw organic feel that I saw in her live videos comes through once in a while, but overall, it honestly sounds overproduced for me. But the thing is, live, it was exactly what I wanted to hear, but better. And it's not as simple as the fact that live instruments were being played. The energy and the interplay between her and the band was exactly right and made these songs really come to life.

At one point, she introduced a song by saying they weren't sure they were going to play it because of the lyrics. They then went into "Hombres Como Tu" with Raquel rocking out on bass, turning this into the punky jam it should be. It's probably the song that most stood out to me from her Tiny Desk because it was cheeky and infectious. The version she played this time had more power behind it and made me realize that this song about moving past what was ultimately a mostly physical and sexual relationship with a shitty guy is really a hell of a girl power anthem. I have no idea if she sets out to write these songs with the idea of female empowerment in mind or if that's just something that comes through because it's how she lives her life, but either way, it's good to hear, particularly in Spanish. And this song isn't just empowering, it flips the script on the concept of sexual objectification in a really fantastic and in your face way with the in barely self censored chorus "hombres como tu, sirven para dos cosas nadamas: meter y sacarte de mi altar" (men like you are only good for two things, and well, it loses it in translation, but you get the idea). The fact that I sing this, again when alone in the car, always and only, means she's doing something right. And while my daughters are way too young to really get into a song like this, and I'd probably freak the fuck out if they ever actually sang it in front of me, I'm glad it exists. 

album cover
I'd be a real asshole if I didn't mention her band. Taylor Byrd on guitar and Brian Lang on drums are also UM grads and she mentioned they'd been playing together for 10 years. She called them her best friends and while that alone wouldn't make them all work together so well, it does come through. But aside from the intangible element of friendship, both are excellent musicians in their own right. Throughout the night, Lang's drums kept everything together and at one point he jumped on congas and snare, a combination I'm not sure I'd ever seen before. A stand out moment, that highlighted Byrd's guitar was during "I Have the Feeling I've Been Here Before," a jazz tune I'd never heard before that Raquel mentioned they'd done at their senior recital. I actually felt like I might cry during this one because it was such a moment of quiet where the performance was in perfect balance. Raquel showed what I can only guess is the full range of her voice with this song. What I love is that her voice has a subtle raspy crack to it that brings an extra texture to something that most people would expect to be all velvet. I try to play guitar, but watching what Byrd was doing from so close it's clear I can't do that. I know it sounded simple, but my fingers feel cramped just thinking about it now. 

For the closing number, they brought out a string quartet and did a song that she says she wrote in the darkest time of her life, but which somehow also ends up being liberating, "Te Amo Idiota." The arrangement of the strings by Byrd added a triumphant drama to the whole thing that was undeniable and truly filled the hall. And Raquel, of course, nailed it once again. By the end of the show, it was beyond clear that this young woman is going to be a household name very soon and if she's not, your house sucks and you should move. I get the sense that once she is more established her albums are going to become much more exploratory and somehow rawer. She plays at least three instruments, writes all her songs and has a voice that balances raw and polished like few can. I can't stress enough how everyone needs to check her out.

sound affects blog
We stuck around after the show and followed a small group of people that had asked about meeting her. Once she came out, Carlos and I considered leaving because it became apparent that she'd come out mainly because there were a few people waiting to see her that actually knew her. And it was a little weird that these two 40 year old men were waiting among the few young girls who didn't know her. It felt a little like an imposition and not because she made it feel that way, but it was just awkward. But at that point, I kind of wanted to say something to her about her girl power anthem which I think she received as intended. She was gracious and very nice about the whole thing and posed for a picture with us. Next time she comes down, we'll leave her alone. Maybe. 

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