Sunflower Bean, The Van T’s at Broadcast, 7/9/16

Raised on a diet of 90s grunge, classic rock, psychedelia and indie dream-pop, Sunflower Bean have carved out not one but several musical niches for themselves, moving effortlessly between genres in each of their tracks.

Their lyrical tone is often melancholy and contemplative, but there is a punk fury that carries many of their songs and melodies.

 

Broadcast is therefore perfect for their Glasgow debut: a dark and sweaty space where loud sound translates to good strong audience vibrations.

Talking of strong vibrations, there is a witchy, almost Pagan current that runs through much of the band’s artwork and even down to the album name, Human Ceremony.

There is indeed something quite enchanting about the power of having just three band members, as if it were the perfect formula for a punk group, the compound which produces a certain necessary energy.

Down to their deliciously assonant names, Julia Cummings (singer/bass), Nick Kivlin (singer/guitar) and Jacob Faber (drums), Sunflower Bean have really tapped something mystical from a neglected genre, giving classic rock its respectful due by mining its core ingredients and throwing a whole load of contemporary innovation into the mix.

Support from Communions was unfortunately pulled but The Van T’s more than satisfy the warm-up crowd with their brand of grungy garage rock, which is loud enough to leave my ears ringing till the next morning.

The witchy theme keeps its consistency here as the band are fronted by twins Hannah and Chloe Van Thompson and the sharp dynamics of their shared vocal delivery create an enchanting performance, enriched by the evident influence of goth, metal (there are some excellent hair flips), riot grrrl and the new romantics.

You can see the similarities to contemporary 90s revivalists Wolf Alice, both in style and music, but there’s something refreshingly unique about the combined vocals, the fuzzy, reverb-heavy guitars and fearlessly nonchalant delivery.

Apart from a brief (barely noticeable) sound problem with one of the guitars, which was handled effortlessly with casual chat to the audience, the performance is impressively tight, culminating in the slightly cleaner and more melodic new single, ‘Blood Orange’.

When Sunflower Bean takes the stage, the crowd is more than ready for them.

Cummings has this lovely ethereality about her, which she seems to take great pleasure in shattering once the music kicks in and she can play the hell out of that bass.

Combining the gamine good looks of say, Agyness Deyn, with the punk attitude of her 90s female predecessors, Cummings enchants from start to finish in a tailor-made tartan dress, unafraid to show her enthusiasm by rocking out on stage and savouring the sweet novelty of those echoing vocal “WOAHS!”, which punctuate the performance.

What looks like a relatively short set on paper is fleshed out with extended solos and jams which display the band’s seamless onstage dynamic, perfected by their constant circuit of live shows, both home and away.

Standout songs include the penultimate sweet and catchy ‘Easier Said’, ‘Rock and Roll Heathen’, showcasing Kivlen’s intricate solo work on guitar and grunge-hazed vocals, and the definitive, jangly opener, ‘Human Ceremony’.

The interplay of vocal styles, between Kivlen’s more garage/shoegazey vocals (may I make a tenuous comparison to Faris Badwan, formerly of the Horrors and now Cat’s Eyes?) and Cummings’ seductively sugar-sweet and sometimes falsetto delivery (especially in, for example, ‘Space Exploration Disaster’), is what makes Sunflower Bean a standout act amongst their musical contemporaries, the likes of Los Angeles surf-poppers Best Coast and fellow Brooklynites, DIIV.

Every track delivers a whole lot of energy, from the lively, fast-paced drumbeats to the extended, playful but never indulgent guitar solos.

Down the front, folk in the crowd aren’t just moshing but practically pogoing, a testament it seems to the band’s punk credit.

Indeed, Sunflower Bean seem really appreciative of their crowd, admitting it is their first time in Glasgow and by the end of the set expressing their excitement at the prospect of returning.

For a band who really shine live, who like a touch of punk rock mixed in with their pretty, dreamy indie, Glasgow seems the perfect fit; here’s hoping they’ll be back soon.

Words: Maria Sledmere

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