Sunflower Bean live at Hare and Hounds Birmingham review

Blaise Radley caught the New York band on the Midlands leg of their UK tour.

Skiddle Staff

Date published: 5th Apr 2018

Image: Sunflower Bean (credit)

Sunflower Bean & Sorry are two distinct entities, but their touring together points to a shared DIY trajectory, despite their being at vastly different points on that arc. Sunflower Bean recently made the jump from scruffy debut album promise to warmly assured sophomore blues, whilst Sorry are still thrashing out singles without much concern for internal consistency. Where Sunflower Bean are settled, Sorry are amorphous; where Sorry are brimming with ideas, Sunflower Bean now exercise wilful restraint. 

As the first half of this time-lapsed venn diagram, Sorry approach the stage with all the humility you wouldn't expect from a hotly-tipped London-based band. There’s a flat affect and dry humour to Sorry’s collective stage presence that has the same charm as an early Wes Anderson film — their introductory apology “Hello, we’re Sorry” only solidifies this. This demeanour feels appropriate though. A crowd's focus on pageantry and performance can be limited during a support act, but lay down a killer melody and the room is suddenly yours. With equal parts vigor and bite, Sorry repeatedly grasp the attention of the floor.

What’s interesting about Sorry's set is their decision to strip back the electronics that might serve as an ear-catching gimmick, relying only occasionally on a drum machine / sequencer. Their first major single and set opener 'Wished' — a fiercely danceable song on record — transforms into a growling distortion-heavy monolith, providing all the raw grunge-reminiscent riffs you'd want from a bunch of young upstarts. At the centre of all this is singer Asha Lorenz, who oozes the kind of easy cool that record label suits are surely braying to bottle. Rippling with moody romance, Sorry’s leering chaotic rock is captivating from start to finish. 

By comparison, Sunflower Bean are a more measured beast. They approach the stage synchronously, their look is beautifully curated (Nick Kivlen's white jumpsuit particularly stands out), and their initial question "Why don't we play some rock music?" speaks to the goodwill they've garnered after cresting the sophomore slump with ease. The central stage dynamic between Kivlen and Julia Cumming has all the requisite back and forths you'd expect, but there's a deft amiability that speaks to the depth of their relationship. Long gone are the fresh faced trio they once were, replaced with something far more commanding. The screams of the sold-out crowd after opener 'Burn it' more than speak to that.

As a live entity, Sunflower Bean feel born anew. They’ve rounded off some of their sharper edges — they are all around twenty-two now of course — which results in something less gut-clenching, but more honed. If their debut, Human Ceremony, was the sound of tightly-written angst, then Twentytwo in Blue both leans toward the current proliferation of dream pop, whilst staring resolutely at their more distant 70s rock peers, Fleetwood Mac. It’s hard for these two records to be fully reconciled in a live context, but the raw bursts of energy from their debut work to break up the more controlled sublimity of the new material.

However, to talk about Sunflower Bean as though they've settled into comfortable routines is to be completely reductive. The energy of this outfit eclipses many of their peers, it just has a greater intention behind it; a more deliberate execution. Drummer, Jacob Faber, regularly drives the pace of things to a near feverish place, the riddling notes of his various drum strokes visibly enlivening his bandmates. It's rare to see a trio so self-possessed who are also able to cut loose, feeding off each other without ever overstuffing it. Needless to say, it's something to behold.

Their entreaties for crowd participation (chanting "No, no, no" and fistpumping during ‘Crisis Fest‘), and their earnest chatter between songs further outlines Sunflower Bean’s motivations as a band. Twentytwo in Blue isn't just a throwback in its musicianship for aesthetic purposes, its part of a deeper yearning for old-fashioned rhythms. When Kivlen states "This is our third time playing this venue, and we finally sold it out" you can feel the pride. It’s ecstatic. It’s sincere. And it’s charming in a way rock could stand to be more often.


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