by James Fisk
Photography by Adrian Gandara
“I’ve listened to her record like once or twice,” the guy standing next to me at Soccer Mommy’s show at Stubb’s indoor stage explained to the girl next to him, maybe a first date. He continued, “I won’t know any of the songs,” speaking to her slightly too loud in an effort to be heard over the din of the sold out show. If she did hear, she gave no response.
As soon as Soccer Mommy began to tear into “Last Girl,” it was clear that first-date guy was in the minority. Despite the band’s latest album Clean having been out for barely more than a month, the crowd did not miss a word singing the lyrics back to Sophie Allison, the creative force behind Soccer Mommy. The voice of his date could be picked out distinctly.
“I want to be like your last girl/ She’s the sun in your cold world and/ I am just a dying flower” yielded a different resonance in live performance. The warm, bedroom vibes, the skuzziness and other lo-fi trappings on the record, were all stripped away on stage. In its place was tight indie-rock instrumentation and Allison’s assured voice delivering her songs of heartache, mistreatment and infatuation with unwavering command.
Allison’s roots in Nashville’s punk music scene were clearer in a live context. The songs from Clean that exploring a virulent, damaging relationship hit with the gut-punch kind of concision and honesty of punk at its finest. Delivered fiercely and apart from the haziness of the record, her lyrics depict that kind of pain and emotion too deep to be treated in metaphor or wordplay. To hear Allison sing “I don’t want to be your fucking dog” from “Your Dog” and echo it back to her with the rest of the crowd yielded a surprisingly teenage, high-schooler-at-Warped-Tour kind of catharsis.
Words delivered in a raw and vulnerable tone on the record took on a different timbre from Allison live on stage. It sounded as if the repetition of dark, intimate lines like “I took you swimming by my house/We skinny dip and rip my flowers out” on stage to a different city of strangers each night had blunted and abated the hurt behind them, leaving only strength in the wake of its survival. There was no note of shame or embarrassment, only the honesty of experience and joy of enduring to better times and better relationships.
After dismissing the rest of Soccer Mommy for a stunner solo set including “Allison,” a spellbinding “Still Clean,” and a cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “I’m on Fire” (recorded in its entirety on an iPhone by Allison’s mom standing toward the back of the room), Allison brought back the band to perform their closer “Scorpio Rising,” the cornerstone of Clean. By now, the first-date couple had drifted apart, and she had found another friend who also knew all the words to adhere to. Maybe it wasn’t a date. Maybe they had only been coworkers or something after all.
The chorus “Don’t think of my life anywhere but in your arms tonight” broke over the room in a powerful crescendo, a plea for once last moment of sublimity in a relationship doomed for torment and failure. The crowd sang it back, making some solace out of shared yearning, out of our need for tenderness and acceptance of its inevitable pains.