Soccer Mommy showcases her virtuosic guitar skills at First Avenue

The college-dropout-turned-indie-darling centered her guitar talent rather than her adept lyricism at her Sunday night stop in Minneapolis.

Sophia Regina Allison, known by her stage name Soccer Mommy, performs at First Avenue venue on Sunday, Nov. 8.

by James Schaak

Sophie Allison, better known as Soccer Mommy, is credited with playing the guitar on both of her critically acclaimed albums. No one can truly understand how well-earned that credit is without attending one of her live shows, as proved by her Sunday concert at First Avenue.

Last year, the 24-year-old New York University dropout dropped her second studio album, “color theory,” a much-anticipated follow-up to her 2018 breakout, “Clean.” Soccer Mommy’s debut scored her a spot on line-ups alongside some of the biggest names in guitar music: Kacey Musgraves, Paramore, Wilco, etc. Considering “color theory” only elevated her indie celebrity status, it surely would have done the same and been a festival regular in any year sans COVID-19.

Instead, “color theory” arrived on February 28, 2020, just weeks before the concept of “in-person” disappeared indefinitely. This fall finally allowed audiences the pleasure of nodding their heads along with the album in packed venues, albeit masked and vaxxed against a disease barely acquainted with the world when the music originally hit streaming services.

Nearly every song played on Sunday hailed from “color theory,” though with the pleasant surprise of a little editorializing from the band: two backup guitarists, a drummer, and a keyboardist (who also occasionally played guitar).

After an audible tuning session before the curtain was drawn, Soccer Mommy whipped out “circle the drain,” her biggest hit to date yet, early into the performance.

From there, the Nashvillian would bow her head between every song and spend a minute or two tuning her prized instrument, if not also switching between an acoustic and an electric guitar, one of which was sparkly pink.

Sometimes Soccer Mommy would try to make casual conversation with the crowd, usually just something basic, along the lines of “check out the merch station” or “it’s been awhile Minneapolis.” Upon every delivery of these rote lines, some eager audience member would respond with a, “We love you Soccer Mommy!”

Yet, more often than not, the focus was solely on readying the strings. Once she was prepared, Soccer Mommy would unceremoniously begin her next song, her fingers confidently tearing through the instrumentals. The subdued small talk hinted that she knew the guitar would speak for itself.

Nonetheless, critics often point out Soccer Mommy’s adept songwriting talent in their rave reviews. The way she uses pop melodies as tools to recall universal truths learned from past relationships places her next to contemporaries like Phoebe Bridgers and Snail Mail, in a cohort of indie rock’s moody, young answers to Taylor Swift’s legacy.

Soccer Mommy’s lyrics are so incisive and important to her artistry that it came as a surprise when it was often difficult to make out what words were being sung. Thankfully, it was the virtuosic guitar skills that were usually obscuring the singing. Blasting on First Ave’s gigantic speakers, both Soccer Mommy’s ensemble and her solo bits played much louder than a bustling college bar on gameday, a showing of Dune in theatres or Kesha’s recent performance at The Armory (my main points of reference.)

People-watching in a concert crowd always makes for good fun. Predictably this one brought out white guys in man buns, college girls in Converses and flannel-wearing 20-somethings of every gender.

Scanning the crowd also felt a little more spurred from concern than interest this time. After music fans, especially those around Soccer Mommy’s age or younger, spent their weekends learning more about Friday’s tragedy at Travis Scott’s ill-fated Astroworld Festival, it was impossible not to keep an eye on security guards, safety protocols and crowd control. The fact that all three of which were visibly present should come as no surprise, not only because Soccer Mommy and Travis Scott share very little in common personally, aesthetically or sonically, but also because of the practicality found in the former’s lyrics. Soccer Mommy does not suffer fools.

The penultimate entry was “Your Dog,” a highlight from Soccer Mommy’s debut, known for its blunt opening, “I don’t wanna be your f–king dog.” The line ranks as Soccer Mommy’s most famous and she announced it clearly Sunday night, with the help of nearly everyone in attendance. The same no-nonsense attitude found in that moment’s words typified the evening. Soccer Mommy’s stage presence does not dwell on an overload of audience engagement or any other pomp and circumstance. The guitarist, who also happens to be a talented singer-songwriter, spent her time on stage focused on nothing other than the task at hand: satisfyingly practicing her craft.