New York City’s Sunflower Bean held court at Union Stage on May 5th, giving the favored few a clinic in post-punk and shoe-gazing indie rock.
Sunflower Bean kicked off their adroit rock set with “Headful of Sugar”, also the name of their third album (via Mom + Pop) which literally came out at midnight the night of the show. Too early for any of the attendees to get their hands on it unfortunately. The title song is full of funky boops, crashing soundscapes, and ethereal, disembodied lyrics, that will make you instantly sway in assent.
Union Stage had put up a curtain next to the bar, where one could enjoy the show with a closer, more neighborly feel. (Side note: Union Stage has also brought back their pizzas!)
Formed in 2013, Sunflower Bean is Julia Cumming (vocals and bass), Nick Kivlen (guitar and vocals) and Olive Faber (drums). I witnessed them perform live once before, at the extinct Rock and Roll Hotel, and was glad to get a chance to see them play some new tunes.
Next came “In Flight”, which literally was released the day of the show, with Nick on lead vocals. It tells the tale of meeting someone and running away together out of a stifling town, where ‘The people die or they move out, everyone but me.’
Later, Julia said that “Otherside” was one of her favorites from the new album. It proved to be a cathartic, soulfully sad song about moving through the grief of losing someone.
One of my favorites by them, “Easier Said”, blazed into our consciousnesses, until Julia abruptly pulled the plug, ‘I totally fucked up the intro! We never play the intro live, and today we brought it back for the first time.’ With a chance at redemption, they nailed the second take. It speaks to getting older, with a heady mix of Nick’s guitar hooks and Julia’s wistful remembrances.
Mid-set, after they played their classic, Fleetwood Macian “I Was a Fool”, came “Who Put You Up To This?”, where Julia’s voice belts up to an earnest falsetto. The lyrics float around the topic of questioning your life and wondering if you’re satisfied and making your own choices. Like here, it seems the key ingredient to most songs on the new album is a resounding finale, a guitar shredding showdown between Julia and Nick that gets them energized for the next one.
They made a big deal about “Post Love”, which was the world premiere, they had never played it live before. They told the crowd that this was meant to be their ‘club song’, so we all better dance along. Some people did, but everyone found their zone eventually with a good sway. Next time they play it live, people will know what to do!
They played 10 (out of 11) of the songs from Headful of Sugar, so we really got the full sense of the album.
After a 15-song set of world premieres and favorites, they had no more energy for a encore, though we thought one might happen. The show ended too early to buy a copy of Headful of Sugar, but that’s easily correctable and should be on everyone’s to do list.
Come out next time Sunflower Bean visit DC!
- Headful of Sugar
- In Flight
- Other Side
- Roll the Dice
- Baby Don’t Cry
- Easier Said
- I Don’t Have Control Sometimes
- I Was a Fool
- Who Put You Up To This?
- Post Love
- Beat the Odds
- Wall Watcher
- Feel Somebody