Review: Sunflower Bean at The Wedgewood Rooms, Portsmouth

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Dazzling

A night of live music at its absolute best from three outstanding and stand-out bands.

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A night of live music at its absolute best, we started off with Jesse Jo Stark and her dark and sultry rock ‘n’ roll. She slayed the singing and the dance moves, strutting around in her white leather boots. There was ‘Dandelion’ and its euphoric chorus, the Hawaiian steel guitar theme in ‘Mystery’ and ‘Breakfast with Lou’ that sounded straight out of a dusty American diner with its “pancakes double stacked”. A shout out to the keyboard player who kept on sliding up the keys at every opportunity.

From good ol’ American rock to the ethereal Miya Folick and her Matrix slow-mo dancing and punk ethos. You know a band is buzzing when they start dancing before the songs have even started. It was like watching a musicless music video, but in the most infectious way. Funky ‘Leave the Party’, with one of the band members simultaneously key mashing and saxophone wielding, was definitely the high point of her set. She wasn’t referring to this evening, Miya felt the need to explain, with the lyrics “leave the party/ don’t need to tell nobody/ there’s nothing for me here”. Alongside this and other energetic numbers ‘Freak Out’ and ‘Stop Talking’, she managed to fit in the beautifully soaring ‘Thingamajig’ and a gorgeous cover of Joni Mitchell’s ‘Woodstock’.

Now to Sunflower Bean. Lead vocalist Julia Cumming came on in an electric blue sequin dress and glittering heels; Nick Kivlen in a satin pyjama-like ensemble; their keyboard player for the evening, fellow artist Dr Danny, in something straight out of the 1960s; and immediately I was entertained. They jumped right in with two songs from the new album Twentytwo in Blue, including triumphant ‘Twentytwo’, before taking a step back in their oeuvre to some of their earlier heavier stuff. They played around with every song, whether it was Julia pulling apart the vocals or Nick nailing a guitar solo. The two of them would float around The Wedgewood Rooms‘ ample stage and occasionally meet in the middle, bouncing off one another musically or, as with Julia, just bouncing up and down in place.

Providing the provocative and ballsy energy of ‘Come For Me’ and then some, Julia climbed over the barrier and started moshing with the crowd. The lights on the stage had turned technicolour in honour of the single from the new EP King of the Dudes, set for a January release. But, no sooner had they thrown down this unsurpassable gauntlet of a performance, they picked it back up again and transcended it. With their beautiful rendition of ‘Only a Moment’, they captured the light and shade of the song with the help of some audience participation. With the chorus “you’re exactly where you’re supposed to be”, we sang it along with them as loud as we could and then just as quiet. Drummer Jacob Faber stripped it back and closed his eyes, while Nick added to his already beautiful solo with gorgeous scalic rises and falls. When he distorted the clean sound of his guitar they blasted it home. The song has hung around in my head ever since.

One encore and a killer guitar and piano solo battle later – Dr Danny hoisted the keyboard up and held it like you would a guitar – and the gig was over. Growing up around music certainly has its perks, when you can achieve this level of live performance on stage, transforming the songs and how the audience interprets them as you play. The diversity of the songs that Sunflower Bean continue to perform and experiment with makes labelling them impossible, but it also makes them one of the most exciting bands around. Their new EP may be on the horizon, but I wouldn’t say no to a live album.

Keep a look out for their new EP King of the Dudes, which will be released 25th January 2019, and watch the music video for ‘Twentytwo’ below. 

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Fourth year French and English student and 2018/19 Live Editor for The Edge.

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