Shot! Sunflower Bean in Brighton
For their first UK headline tour, New York’s coolest new band brought an extra member, a vintage aesthetic, plenty of swagger and energy to spare
Almost exactly a year since I saw them support Wolf Alice at the Dome, Sunflower Bean were back in Brighton, This time, the New York trio were on their first UK headline tour and playing The Old Market.
For this run of dates, they were also joined by a fourth player, Danny Ayala, formerly of The Lemon Twigs on keys and guitars. The female-fronted band also brought two fellow female rockers with them.
Both Jesse Jo Stark and Miya Folick hail from LA and both ladies put on memorable performances that warmed up the audience on what was a bone-chilling night in Brighton (well Hove actually).
By the time Sunflower Bean took the stage, the atmosphere was nice and toasty, warm enough for guitarist Nick Kivlen to wear what looked for all the world to be a pair of silver pyjamas. Of course all eyes were on Rickenbacker-wielding Julia Cumming. The peroxide blonde former model — who’s been called this generation’s Debbie Harry — sported Amy Winehouse-style eyeshadow and teetered on silver sequin boots.
The first thing you notice is their sound is more expansive, the additional keys helping to give the music extra depth. At the same time, it becomes apparent that it’s not just the sonics that are amped up, so are the band, brimming with the confidence that comes from constant gigging and playing to a room-full of their own fans, rather than having to win over someone else’s.
Like Wolf Alice before them, there are clear signs of a band on the path to much bigger things. Although they’ve been called New York’s coolest new band, what they still need to finesse is their sound, which is not yet immediately identifiable as being theirs.
Perhaps a better comparison can be made with Brighton’s own Black Honey, who also have a peroxide blonde frontwoman and a similar vintage aesthetic. There clearly is an appetite for glam-informed bands like this and you get the feeling that all it needs for Sunflower Bean to take the next step up is either a hit song or someone getting behind them with a strong marketing campaign.
Their breakthrough could well come with the song they’re debuting on this tour. Come For Me, recorded this summer in LA, is another example of the Brooklyn band taking an increasingly political stance with their lyrics.
As Julia said: ”Music is like a refuge for the realities of the world, realities which are often very painful.”
Hot on the heels of the angst-filled Crisis Fest, a Clash-inspired battle cry from their last album which lambasts Trump’s America, (”There’s a coup in our country, and it’s happening now!”) Come For Me is another statement of their growing unease with the world and their fears for its future.
It’s no coincidence that both songs were the highlights of a rousing, energy-filled performance. Showing they can also slow it down and do languid, another personal favourite of mine was the psychedelic Easier Said (Than Done)
They clearly like the Brighton vibe, with Julia Cumming even commenting that if she ever moved to the UK, this would be the place she’d want to live.
Who knows, the next time they visit, Sunflower Bean might just have grown a whole lot bigger. I for one can see them really blooming on a bigger stage in front of a much bigger audience.
Setlist: Burn It | Twentytwo| Tame Impala | 2013 | Easier Said | Crisis Fest | Human For | Come For Me | I Was A Fool | Only A Moment | I Was Home || Memoria | Wall Watcher
“To me, shooting live music is all about capturing the personality of the performer and the emotion of their performance. And then creating an iconic image.”
Behind the image: All these images were taken with the Olympus OM-D E-M1 and the 1.8 75mm lens using the camera’s built-in digital zoom. Whilst I was able to shoot the entire show, there was no photo pit, which meant by the time Sunflower Bean were onstage, the venue was packed and I was unable to move from my position. As a result, I couldn’t get a range of different angles as Julia rarely changed her angle. I also have to say the lighting was nowhere near as complimentary as it was when I last photographed her at the Dome.
Special thanks to Thom Williams at Sonic PR for sorting my pass and for organising the interview I did with the band before the show.