Photo by JOSH PELTA-HELLER
Wearing oversized wire-frame aviators and high pigtails supported by a small army of shiny barrettes, Sophie Allison serenaded a sold-out crowd of Philadelphia fans at the First Unitarian Church last night with her band, Soccer Mommy. Soccer Mommy’s early bedroom pop work evolved into the highly praised Clean, a 2018 record that deals with love, loss, and the overall existential struggles of most every young adult. It’s music that makes you crave the warmth of another while simultaneously feeling the pain of punching through the walls that Allison described in “Henry,” the opening song of the night.
Though the band included instant classics “Your Dog” and “Cool” on the setlist, they exchanged regulars from earlier tours like “Allison” for “Out Worn,” another awesomely rocking song with an enticingly heartbreaking chorus off of Collection, a compilation of fully recorded versions of Allison’s early Bandcamp work. Despite the intimacy of her lyrics, Allison kept the crowd at a distance, rarely speaking between songs except for sound adjustments and the necessary words of thanks for a sold-out show. This introversion made it easy to project my own love stories onto her words, the seasonal tragedies of “Still Clean” transporting me back to my lavender-walled high school bedroom, looking out at the bare trees of a bitterly cold winter as I indulged in the self pity of my first real breakup.
Soccer Mommy’s music inspires obsession – those who are familiar with it know every last word, and were more than willing to scream along to Allison’s twisted romantic angst in songs like “Last Girl” or “Flaw,” emphatically head-nodding with every pulse of the rhythm. The band danced along as well as they reworked songs with more complex production for a live setting. Mostly, as in the case of “Cool” and “Still Clean,” they simply left those elements out, progressing through the chord changes without any majorly dramatic use of effects pedals or other experimentation. Though the creative production is what first drew me to those songs, the band was right to think that sometimes it’s best to leave certain components of that on the recording. And in the intimacy of a church basement, reverting to a style more akin to Allison’s lo-fi beginnings worked well.
The set ended on “Scorpio Rising,” a song of romantic nostalgia and shortcomings that ends in a realization that there are some qualities about ourselves that we’ll never be able to change, ones that are instead controlled by some mystic force of fate or astrology. Allison has called it the centerpiece of Clean, and its spiritual power over the room was obvious as the din of voices singing along grew louder with each repeat of the chorus. Then, following the order of the album, Soccer Mommy left the stage for a brief interlude before returning to play “Wildflowers” – “a song we’ve just learned to play for shows, so you’re some of the first to hear it,” Allison told the crowd. They swapped the dreamy laser-like synths of the song’s recording for a final build of bewitching distortion, with the band members drawing closer around Allison at the end.
In that circling abstraction, I could picture the line of earth in the last verse calling to me as well, carrying me far away from these darkly cold days in the city back to summer nights spent sprawled across picnic tables staring up at the stars in warmly familiar company. Perhaps I allow my love for Allison’s songwriting to indulge me in these wistful daydreams a bit too often, or maybe it’s simply because December always makes me ache for the comfort of my true home. But romantic and idealistic as these feelings might be, they aren’t ones I’d like to change. Instead, I want to embrace the fact that I’m just a victim of changing planets, same as Allison and everyone else stuffed into that eternally humid basement last night. — SOPHIE BURKHOLDER