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Live review: Sunflower Bean

ByAlasdair Flett

Jan 18, 2019

Sunflower Bean is formed of bassist and vocalist Julia Cumming, guitarist Nick Kivlen and drummer Jacob Faber. They create a classic rock sound indebted to Fleetwood Mac, Queen and T-Rex as well as participating in the neo-psychedelia movement championed by bands such as Tame Impala and Unknown Mortal Orchestra.

Julia is a besequinned emerald spreading shards of green light wherever she strides. She slings a gorgeous Rickenbacker 4003 over her shoulder and takes to the mic flanked by Nick in a burgundy blazer with a 70s Brain May-esque guitar and the new touring member on keys. Jacob hunkers down behind an oversized kick drum à la John Bonham in an otherwise minimal kit.

But before this, we had two support bands who set the tone for the Brooklyn collective both positively and negatively. First up was Jesse Jo Stark. Her dusty sound evoking desert rock of Queens of the Stone Age. She was followed by Miya Folick who was, unfortunately, prey to technical issues of which she made the audience very aware, making for an awkward atmosphere that detracted significantly from the performance.

Sunflower Bean also suffered from some audio problems, largely confined to the bass. This was a shame seeing as the instrument is such an integral element in the power trio and knowing of what tasty tones the Rickenbacker is capable. However, the band took a “show must go on” attitude and were able to carry their songs regardless.

As a young band, Sunflower Bean might need to work on their audience rapport; there are only so many times we can hear “so great to be here in Glasgow tonight” (I think I counted four) and still feel like we’ve been extended a special welcome. That said, after initial nerves are dissipated, Julia shares an anecdote about her Glaswegian grandmother and Nick says that if he were to move to the UK, he’d settle in the city.

The set was a mix from the debut Human Ceremony and this year’s Twentytwo in Blue as well as the new single ‘Come For Me’. Nick is a seriously flashy guitar player with a great ear for melody over and above sheer technique, and this is really a godsend when the bass is having issues because he fills out the gaps in the sound, especially during the first song.

Highlights include the rail against American political discourse in ‘Crisis Fest’, which, halfway through, is the band’s first attempt to encourage audience participation. ‘I Was A Fool’ with its spectacular fretwork on the bass is impressive to see – if hard to hear with much clarity, but the real high point of the night is the latest single from the upcoming EP King of the Dudes where Julia vaults offstage and gets into the crowd for the final chorus!

It’s early days for Sunflower Bean and although let down by technology, they were able to demonstrate unfailing professionalism. Their winning streak was not ended by the whimsy of a temperamental bass amp.


Image: Paul Hudson via Wikimedia Commons

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