Review & Photos: SOJA in Hamburg, Germany @ Mojo Club 10/2/2014

10/07/2014 by Gardy Stein

Review & Photos: SOJA in Hamburg, Germany @ Mojo Club 10/2/2014

SOJA in Hamburg, Germany @ Mojo Club - October 2nd 2014

Curiosity is one of my favourite traits in people. Not the kind that makes someone rummage nosily through other people's businesses, not the one inspired by jealousy, not the mean search for our neighbours' secrets. The curiosity I mean is the pure joy of learning, the open-mindedness that makes us talk to each other with a true and genuine interest of getting to know another reality, a fresh outlook, new experiences…

Having felt that way all my life, the prospect of experiencing new things excites me. No wonder my excitement peaked last Thursday, having never been to either a SOJA concert or the Mojo Club.

The location is situated way below the so-called Tanzenden Türme (dancing towers), built in 2012 at the eastern mouth of Reeperbahn. During the day, the entrance doors are closed, hiding under unspectacular round iron trap doors that open at night. Thus it is already thrilling to pass the double security and descend into what feels like dungeons, but proves to be a simplistically furnished circular club. Having arrived a bit late, the opening act is already in full swing. Kollektiv 22 their name, it's a local band of seven that rocks the stage with, well, Rock. Sprinkled with Rap and Folk elements, this is another new experience. I'm especially fascinated by the little banjo-guitar-thing one of them plays - a mandolin, as I later find out. They create an ambience with clever lyrics and free goodies and leave stage around 8:30. The changeover is done quickly and professionally, but still it takes almost half an hour before everything is set up correctly… that gives me some time to look around.

The place is full already (around 500 people), more spectators arriving one by one and filling the ranks above, too. It's not the usual Hamburg Reggae crowd - a young, European audience of Hipsters hangs around casually, sipping their drinks while waiting for the show to start. I estimate the average age at 26; it would be less, were it not for the countless odd couples of (obviously) accompanying father and underage daughter. It's the latter who start a high-pitched scream when the first members of the SOJA enter stage to test their instruments.

At 9pm sharp, they get going and without much ado, Jacob Hemphill starts to Tear It Down. With a little delay (I think it took the audience a moment to realize that they were finally here!), the band is greeted with shouts and raised hands during the next song I Don't Wanna Wait, a groovy piece to which bass player Bobby Lee brings movement on stage. He's most fun to watch actually, and in the course of the evening he changes attitude and attire several times, putting on sunglasses to deliver a powerful raggamuffin part on Your Song or Be Aware, for instance, or opening his long blonde dreads for a round of headbanging during Not Done Yet and Here I Am. What an energy!

The crowd is not quite able to keep up – when Jacob tells them that it's "your turn to make some noise right now!" during I Believe, the reactions are a bit too restrained for my taste. At least the clapping works! As they are into an extended version of To Whom, SOJA surprise us with a fresh and stunning show-act: starting with Trevor Young who catches a drumstick thrown by drummer Ryan Berty out of mid-air, he strums his guitar with it and then passes it on. One by one the number of sticks increases and builds up into a flying-stick-choreography in the middle of which I count 6 of them soaring through the air at the same time, caught almost simultaneously by all band members. I wonder how long it took them to do this and how it all started… In the middle of this artistic filler, percussionist Kenny Bongos comes to the front with a tambourine and a whistle, leading us on to the next song.

Besides the impact these boys have on their audience, it's especially the arrangement of the songs that impresses me. In perfect harmony, Trevor's Falsetto is joined by Bobby's rusty voice before Jacob adds his vocals to theirs to sing Shadow. To the three of them then consorts saxophonist Hellman Escorcia, while the fourfold glory is dubbed over by some unseen sound magician.  

During Sorry, the stage becomes lively once more. Trevor is switching back and forth between electric and acoustic guitar while trumpeter Rafael Rodriguez joins Kenny on the rhythm section. The rest of the crew moves back and front to the very edge of the stage, getting into physical reach of their fans.

I would have missed the next 2 tracks, were it not for a live transmission of the sound to the stylish unisex (!) toilets. Thus I can follow She Still Loves Me and Driving Faster and am back just in time to witness some serious drumming action. The band disappears, leaving only Rafael and Hellman on stage, who start a complicated samba beat. After a while they pick up speed and are joined by the others on a complete Bateria, including a small Agogo and huge Surdos. We are transported to Brazil (or Notting Hill, that is), but there's just not enough Carnival in the spectators' blood to really make the mood boil over. After this fast-paced intermezzo, there is a short break to rearrange the stage and then… this song starts.

Whoever wrote the string melody to You And Me deserves a Nobel prize for exceptional beauty of art. Keyboarder Patrick O'Shea plays the haunting notes that form the intro to a touching love story, delivered once more in five-fold vocal harmonies to which Hellman, Bobby, Trevor and Jacob sit down. Especially the female fans virtually melt at their feet. As the song ends, the farewell words of the lead singer are drowned by claps and shouts of the massive which become more intense when SOJA leaves stage and ear-splitting when they come back out. With Here I Am they play an extended goodbye, changing from jazzy hues to salsa ones. Jacob is lifting his guitar once more to send final greetings to Hamburg, telling us "Take care of each other! There is a small chance that we will make it into the future when we stop talking bullshit. Everyone has a right to be here!"

My insides are tingling. So much new stuff and wonderful music to digest! I will make sure to re-listen all of the songs to understand their lyrics properly. Their new album Amid The Noise And Haste is definitely on my Christmas list!