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Soniphone Records showcases fresh, raw talent

Johnny Hoffman and The Residents at Columbia City Theater (Photo by Christine Mitchell)

Johnny Hoffman and The Residents at Columbia City Theater (Photo by Christine Mitchell)

It was a dark and stormy night last Thursday, but the Soniphone Spook-A-Thon was nothing as rote as the weather. If anything, the dark, wind, and rain enhanced the snug-as-a-bug feel of the Columbia City Theater’s warm, intimate space. It’s a gem of a venue and the perfect setting for up and coming musicians.

Soniphone Records out of Mukilteo is small yet burgeoning; the two bands in its roster both set to release their debut material in the near future. Label owner Kyle Ledford has been working hard for both Johnny Hoffman and The Residents and Shark The Herald, and both bands have been performing multiple gigs in the area in the last few months. With so much going on for the Soniphone folks, it was definitely time for a (costume) party. The crowd and bands alike dressed up as everything from Tom Cruise in Risky Business to a Zissou Frogman to good old pirates and cowboys. The Tilted Thunder Railbirds non-profit roller derby girls were there to officiate a costume contest, with the winners announced at the end of the night.

Northern Shakedown started things off with a groovy R&B hip-hop vibe, bringing to mind Jamiroquai’s biggest hit, “Virtual Insanity.” Keyboardist/rapper Jabreel Stewart was the only one of the two sets of brothers to get into the Halloween spirit, but his muscled Superman costume had enough personality for all four band members. The crowd started bobbing their heads.

Jaunty rock outfit The Requisite leveled things up from there, both musically and in the attire department. Lead singer and guitarist Maxwell Royce and co. blazed through a clutch of tunes that were strut-worthy and sonically tight, at times sounding a bit dreamy and soaring. Their costumes were the best of the night; there was seriously nothing on stage that could compete with Royce’s PBR guitar-toting lion or a drumming Pocahontas. Judging by their performance on this night, it would be a pleasure to see these guys in just their regular duds as well. Royce’s voice is honey-timbred; thick, yet pleasantly clear.

Shark The Herald hails from Everett, and Kirk Rutherford’s vocals are also quite pleasing, although in an altogether different way. Grunge-ish and loud, melodic and crushing, Shark The Herald tips its hat low to the nineties, snagging the best monster riffs and modernizing them to everyone’s benefit. Rutherford’s voice has a serious strength that could be put to use quite a bit more often; his screaming and wailing inject necessary depth and emotion into the band’s doozy jams. The crowd swelled to the front of the stage during the set, hollering their approval. They were duly rocked.

Johnny Hoffman and The Residents sewed it all up with a brash punk set that was surprisingly good. Johnny came on stage looking like a cross between Bob Dylan and a zombie that had joined the Kiss Army, while drummer Frico Suave went for the more conservative look with a Misfits skull on his hooded face. Hoffman exuded a devil-may-care attitude that started with his hasty makeup application and was emphasized by his rowdy guitar riffs and flamboyant stage presence. Frico was a superb, badass drummer, hard-hitting and a joy to watch and hear. Together, the Everett-based duo coalesced like a dirty force of nature, the messy, fuzzy guitar smacking against the drums in a satisfying way. Hoffman’s voice, while not particularly strong, has a fascinating tone to it that evokes the essence of pissed-off disaffected youth, a bit like Jack White mixed with a smidge of Gordon Gano.

Soniphone Records is one to watch. Look for their new releases soon and keep an eye out for these bands: they’re worth it.

Christine Mitchell has been poring over album liner notes pretty much since she acquired the skill of reading, and figured out the basic structure of rock songs at an early age. Whether it’s the needle popping into the first groove of the record, the beeps that signal the beginning (or end) of a cassette tape, or digital numbers ticking off the seconds from zero, music brings Christine happiness, ponderous thought, opportunities for almost scientific study, and sometimes a few tears. When she started attending live shows two decades ago, a whole new piece of the puzzle clicked in and she has been hooked ever since.