It’s not all that often that you walk into Toronto’s historic Horseshoe Tavern – a venerable institution of rock n’ roll – and see rows of fluorescent lights set up on the hallowed, well-worn stage. Most bands that pass through the legendary venue opt for minimal frills, relying instead on their stage show rather than efforts at grandeur. Apparently no one told SOHN that.
But even if you closed your eyes while at his recent Toronto show, you’d just as easily manage to swap out the sweaty rock club for an underground warehouse rave. For one night, the Vienna-based, English-born musician transformed his surroundings and probably brought an entirely different audience into the Horseshoe to see his sophomore showing in the city.
Touring his 2014 debut Tremors, anticipation was high amongst the gathered crowd – the front rows mostly packed with people just south of legal age and still very much eager and dewy-eyed.
His emergence on stage – flanked by two backing musicians who took seats behind him – was greeted with warm cheers, SOHN counteracting the reception with the slow-moving, hypnotic rhythm of “Ransom Notes.”
Surrounded by glowing fluorescent tubes, the electronic musician sat behind a desk, fiddling with knobs and keys as he delivered heartfelt emotion through his vocals. “Bloodflows”, a track from the aforementioned Tremors, showed him at the height of these feelings, delivering lines like “my love don’t love me” as the young men in front of me Snapchatted selfies of themselves, singing along, to whom I can only assume is their Tinder soul mates. Because I assume that’s what kids do now days.
But I digress, and what was more important was the fact that SOHN proved his power throughout the course of his set – the dark, pulsating electronics mixed well to his vocal acrobatics. It’s all very nineties pop flavoured; tracks such as “Veto” and “The Wheel” showing boy band influences – the latter much like “Bye Bye Bye” put through an electronic blender. It also doesn’t hurt that his voice itself recalls Justin Timberlake’s.
This can probably help explain part of SOHN’s broad appeal. After all, there was a reason bands like the Backstreet Boys and ‘N SYNC were so well received. And with SOHN, you get the sense he’s able to do it all with authenticity. On the album opening “Tempest”, he reached impressively into his falsetto, its delivery near flawless.
Compliments that were lobbed at him from the crowd were met with a polite thank you; SOHN later telling the crowd it was his second visit to Toronto. This night, he explained, was a lot busier and a lot louder than his last visit – then playing to the Drake Hotel.
Musically, it’s all pretty sad and emotional. Even his more upbeat numbers were brooding and heavy (see: “Lights” for an example of that.) There are also plenty of referential points to be heard, as with the Hans Zimmer “Time”-inspired “Warnings”, which spirals off into Muse-ian territory with its slow, “Madness” like boom-bap. On “Lessons,” SOHN switched out his gyrating instrumental buildup for a Kanye West-type vocal modification approach. Think West’s collaboration with Bon Iver on “Lost In The World” and you get a pretty good idea of SOHN’s big finish.
As he finished his encore ending set with “The Wheel”, a sweaty crowd cheered him and his backing band loudly. Not a bad reception for a man sat behind a desk for much of the set. It was with his light show and with his atmospheric electronics that SOHN managed to do something very few artists are able to pull off: transcend the venue. On Wednesday night, he effectively turned the Horseshoe into The Hoxton – the venue he should probably play the next time he visits the city.