This Sunflower Bean article was written by Ben Duncan-Duggal, a GIGsoup contributor. Edited by Ian Bourne. Header image by Joshua Atkins.
Sunflower Bean are one of a new breed of artists, creating psych-rock songs full of luscious texture and ultra-precise melodies. Except there is no breed. It is simply them and Tame Impala. That explains why the 140-capacity Bristol Louisiana is full to the brim, with less than standing room only. It also poses a challenge. The three-piece band stand before the crowd at the beginning of the show, aware of the buzz. Aware of the pressure which is on them to create a soundscape as glistening as Tame Impala.
Only this band — on record — are so much more than a tribute, much to the disappointment of much of the audience (you suspect). They draw all manner of pictures with their guitar music, from the sunny yet gloomy melodies of The Cure, to the jangles of The Smiths and perhaps The Beach Boys, to almost straight-out blues and southern rock. Admittedly, strongest is the drift of the Tame.
For most of the gig, they fail to create the effect of their records. This is no real failure, though — who can blame a three piece for failing to create a sound which is surely reliant on the studio as a setting, with perfect waves of oozing synths driving their records into the sort of place where you’re not really aware that you’re listening to music. This failure, for the most part, leaves several of the songs — ‘‘Easier Said, ‘2013’, ‘Space Exploration Disaster’ — into a sort of no man’s land of psychedelic songs without psychedelia. They sound as they would sound without the effects from the studio, hollow. It fails to engage, largely, as we are left with little more than straight-out blues rock.
The evening’s goalposts shift from trip-out to rock show and, occasionally, Sunflower Bean score. A few of their songs, which at heart shift away from mid-tempo psych rock (just rock, tonight) to heavy rock, succeed. These energy-driven songs take the aimless, disappointed drift away from the night and give it back a kind of energy that isn’t quite rock but isn’t quite pure psychedelia. ‘Wall Watcher’, for example, concerns an obsessive mother and is as driven as one. ‘I Was Home’ is the exact opposite of its subject matter, a lazy day.
The crowd respond to these brief injections of fuel, having previously been focusing on standing still and pretending not to be bored. It’s with this base of energy that the same crowd eventually get what they came for, a blaze of otherworldliness, as waves of reverb glide perfectly over the solid base of ‘I Was Home’ and the second half of ‘Space Exploration Disaster’.
As the band and the room slip out of normality during these moments, the crowd notices that an audience member and the lead singer and bassist, Julia Cumming, have swapped places. A drugged-up girl is smiling on stage while Cumming exists in a respectful circle in the mosh pit. Things out of place is what people are here for. It’s a shame that it only happens occasionally.