Sunflower Bean @ Hare and Hounds, 27th March 2018

Described in various outlets, both of quality writing and of lazy journalistic tendencies, Brooklyn, Noo Yawwwk band Sunflower Bean are constantly compared to Rumours-era Fleetwood Mac. They are described as a band that have a CV of a rock band that do not actually rock. As a band that play a mix of grunge and shoegaze (!). As a band that are ‘likeable’.

Well, there are elements of truth in all those lazy comparisons except the ‘likeable’ bit. There isn’t just an element of truth in that. It is entirely accurate. From the moment they take the stage to a packed out main room in the H&H they ooze sincere amiableness and warmth.

Bassist and singer Julia Cummings with shoulder length blonde hair and black halter neck dress suit, drummer Jacob Faber with shortened hair and 70’s moustache and guitarist Nick Kivlen dressed in a white jump suit and looking like a cross between Simon Amstell and Jonathon Richman, appear to have gone through an image change since 2016’s debut album. If 2018’s offering, “Twentytwo In Blue” is a coming-of-age album then this is an equally coming-of-age image. It’s a mixture of innocent vampishness, 70s soft rock chic and country-rock hippiness and it looks great.

Kicking off with “Burn It” from the new album they treat us to a lazy-comparison busting T-Rex meets The Go-Gos New Wave-boogie opener, full of catchy guitar lines and powerful vocals, that sets the bar high for the rest of the set. Following straight up with older song “Come On” we are treated to very early Bangles type melodies meets some kind of early 90s Britpop girl band vocals; Tiny Monroe or Sleeper spring to mind.

It seems to be a strength of the band and to these songs. You can hear so many influences whether they are aware of them or not. “Twentytwo” shows off the strength of Julia’s voice.  Range, clarity, dynamics and emotion.  One minute she can be a ballad crooning Chrissie Hynde or, yes, I’ll admit it, Christine McVie and the next minute she’s belting out like Joan Jett.

The band are fully aware of musical history as demonstrated when Nick declares “it’s just because we’re in Birmingham that it has to be done” before throwing out the opening chord to “Iron Man”.

It might not be the intention of the song but maybe they are also fully aware of the fickle nature of the music industry when Julia sings “fate can pick you up, you know that it can put you down” in “Crisis Fest”. It’s a socio-political song that is a total earworm and maybe I’m just romanticising the whole song and the Noo Yawk thing but I think I spotted a Johnny Thunders guitar line from “Personality Crisis” in there too; intentional or not.

Another earworm comes when they start the two song run in – no encore. “Sinking Sands” suggests that guitarist Nick needs to get a little more lead vocal action. Strong two part harmonies throughout, that occasionally hint at 60s West Coast band The Byrds, work well, but dual lead vocals work just as effectively here.

The set ends with 60s psychedelic rocker “I Was Home” and here’s another one… I swear Nick is throwing in some bits of “Third Stone From The Sun” by Hendrix followed up with lines that could come straight from keyboard lines from the Doors and chorus pedal noodlings from Arthur Lee’s Love. I swear, this guy is an quality guitarist. His talent is understated because like all the best guitarists he knows that playing for the song is the key.

Apologies if I have any song titles incorrect or out of order… this is my first time of seeing the band and indeed this week was the first time I’d heard of them. I guarantee that they’re already on my Songkick watchlist for next time.  Can’t fault this show and I completely understand why it was sold-out.

Okay, here’s the obligatory lazy one amongst all my imagined comparisons…. Earlier in the set, at the end of “I Was A Fool”, I turned to say those dreaded words to my companion for the evening, but he beat me to it. “That was Fleetwood Mac!”. It ain’t such bad company to keep!

 

Setlist

Burn It

Come On *

Twentytwo

2013 *

Memoria

Only a Moment

Crisis Fest

Human For

Puppet Strings

Easier Said *

I Was a Fool

Sinking Sands

I Was Home *

All songs from the new album except *

 

Reviewer: Mark Veitch

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