SUN­FLOWER BEAN

New York­ers man­age to pull an im­pres­sive show from a set plagued with dif­fi­cul­ties.

Q (UK) - - Contents - HAN­NAH J DAVIES

The New York trio bat­tle the tech­ni­cal grem­lins in Lon­don. Can they pre­vail?

When they first vis­ited Lon­don back in 2016, New York three­piece Sun­flower Bean had just re­leased their de­but al­bum, Hu­man Cer­e­mony, a retro-flavoured pick’n’mix that lurched from sun-bleached psychedelia to ’ 90s- in­spired grunge and clas­sic rock riff­ing. Look­ing like they’d walked in from a 1970s- themed fancy-dress party, in both im­age and sound, the group felt un­apolo­get­i­cally out of step with cur­rent pop trends. In fact, when be­ing in­ter­viewed in Q at the time, then- 19- year-old singer Ju­lia Cum­ming ad­mit­ted that she’d never even heard a Ken­drick La­mar song. To­day Sun­flower Bean are sat deep within the Victorian rab­bit war­ren of Cam­den’s Koko, where they’re set to play their big­gest head­line show to date in sup­port of sec­ond al­bum Twen­tytwo In Blue. The trio – Cum­ming, gui­tarist Nick Kivlen and drum­mer Ja­cob Faber, who still sports a han­dle­bar mous­tache de­spite shear­ing off his shoul­der­length, heavy metal dude curls – are all dressed in white. Cum­ming laughs when her ear­lier ig­no­rance is brought up. It seems she’s spent the in­ter­ven­ing two years play­ing catch-up. “The peo­ple right there at the top are ac­tu­ally do­ing some­thing re­ally in­no­va­tive and spe­cial, and that’s

how it should be,” she says. “Look at Cardi B. Ken­drick is do­ing the most in­no­va­tive stuff. If rock mu­si­cians aren’t, then they shouldn’t be the most suc­cess­ful artists.” Newly plugged in to the world around them, the band have even been in­clud­ing a cover of Child­ish Gam­bino’s Red­bone in their re­cent shows. Cum­ming does ad­mit there’s one modern pop star who is still off her radar though. “We didn’t know there was a Tay­lor Swift song called 22 un­til we re­leased this record. Peo­ple keep quoting it, but I still haven’t heard it.” It’s an en­gage­ment that’s ap­par­ent through­out Twen­tytwo In Blue, which shakes off its pre­de­ces­sor’s more anachro­nis­tic trap­pings for a glossier, more co­her­ent sound. Songs such as Cri­sis Fest tackle the po­lit­i­cal cli­mate in the US, re­flec­tive of Cum­ming’s own ac­tivism set­ting up DIY or­gan­i­sa­tion Anger Can Be Power to ed­u­cate and or­gan­ise young cre­atives. “When we started out we were re­belling against shoegaze bands in Brook­lyn. We were do­ing gui­tar so­los,” notes Cum­ming of the change. “Now I feel like we’re re­belling against the old ver­sion of our­selves.” The band have spent the last few years gig­ging near-con­stantly. Kivlen jokes that the night he slept in their van in a Taco Bell carpark to save money was the low point, but for Cum­ming there were more se­ri­ous per­sonal is­sues. “For years I suf­fered from crip­pling de­pres­sion. I was strug­gling be­fore writ­ing this record and al­ways will,” she says. “It was man­i­fested on the al­bum as re­silience.” That re­silience will come in handy later tonight.

With Kivlen snif­fling away with pre-show lur­gies, Cum­ming ad­mits to be­ing “ter­ri­fied” about how her not “vo­cally awe­some” throat will fare in front of a crowd of 1500. These will prove to be mi­nor con­cerns, how­ever, as Sun­flower Bean are faced with the sort of tech­ni­cal dif­fi­cul­ties that would make even the most tourhard­ened veter­ans crum­ble. Things start promis­ingly with a fist­pump­ing FM-rock dou­ble header of Burn It and Come On. Kivlen hur­tles across the stage, turn­ing to eye­ball Cum­ming as they spur each other on, thrash­ing up Come On’s melodies to be­come ever more fran­tic. When it ends, she salutes the crowd and thanks them for nudg­ing the al­bum into the UK Top 40 that week. Then, things stall. “Let’s give it up for tech­ni­cal dif­fi­cul­ties,” Cum­ming of­fers ner­vously, as their tour man­ager bolts on­stage to try and re­sus­ci­tate Kivlen’s tem­per­a­men­tal ped­al­board. It’s hard not to feel sorry for them on what should be a tri­umphant oc­ca­sion. No amount of cre­ativ­ity, prac­tice or even luck can save a band from tech­ni­cal prob­lems, but the hush from the stalls is deaf­en­ing. Ped­al­board seem­ingly re­stored to health, they con­tinue with Twen­tytwo. Cum­ming is on spell­bind­ing form as Faber and Kivlen recreate the song’s richly tex­tured sound. On Cri­sis Fest, mean­while, they’re all fired up with Cum­ming im­plor­ing the au­di­ence to sing along to the re­frain of, “if you hold us back you know that we can shout – no, no, no”. The tech grem­lins soon rear their head again, though. Cum­ming fills the gap by talk­ing about first com­ing across her band­mates, re­lay­ing a tale of meet­ing the then two-piece at a now-shut­tered Brook­lyn deli and de­cid­ing to join their band. She’s clearly play­ing for time, but it’s a nice touch. Un­for­tu­nately, the fits and starts con­tinue. Af­ter Eas­ier Said, Cum­ming’s glass-break­ing falsetto al­lay­ing any of her pre-show vo­cal fears, they grind to a halt again, with Faber im­pro­vis­ing on the drums to kill some time. The frus­tra­tion on­stage is pal­pa­ble and Kivlen has to sit out the next song al­to­gether, a cover of Neil Young’s coun­try slow waltz Har­vest Moon. How­ever, now re­tooled as a sim­pler bass, drum and vo­cal ren­di­tion it ac­tu­ally works bet­ter. Strip­ping it back has brought out the song’s gen­tle poignancy and the crowd are en­thralled: sway­ing, singing, some snog­ging along. Fi­nally, it seems that what­ever has been plagu­ing them on­stage has been re­solved. Kivlen and Cum­ming’s calland-re­sponse role play as di­vided lovers on I Was A Fool serv­ing as the per­fect palate cleanser, its Fleet­wood Mac-like har­monies trans­port­ing an ap­pre­cia­tive crowd back to a more even keel af­ter such choppy wa­ters. It’s been an emo­tional jour­ney and be­fore the fi­nal track, Kivlen de­clares

that it has been “both the best and worst day of my life”. It’s a dif­fi­cult mo­ment to watch. Of course, the band had had other ideas about how tonight was go­ing to play out, but im­pres­sively they’ve man­aged to pull a trans­fix­ing show out of the po­ten­tial rub­ble. For closer Space Ex­plo­ration Dis­as­ter, Kivlen and Cum­ming get lost in their own swirling riffs, head­bang­ing their way through mantra-like rep­e­ti­tions of “float away from the planet”. Fi­nally let­ting loose af­ter all the set­backs, Cum­ming even ven­tures out into the crowd with her bass. Any­one walk­ing in for the fi­nal stretch would have had no idea what a tor­tur­ous jour­ney get­ting there had been for the three in­di­vid­u­als on­stage. Against the odds, they’ve snatched vic­tory from the jaws of de­feat. It feels like a fit­ting trib­ute to the new-look Sun­flower Bean. More con­fi­dent, re­silient and turn­ing bad sit­u­a­tions to their ad­van­tage.

“It’s been both the best and worst day of my life.” Nick Kivlen

Tech­ni­cal grem­lins, be damned! Kivlen and Cum­ming “fi­nally let loose af­ter all the set­backs.”

“We’re re­belling against the old ver­sion of our­selves”: Sun­flower Bean (clock­wise from top, Nick Kivlen, Ja­cob Faber and Ju­lia Cum­ming) strike a pose.

“Sway­ing, singing, snog­ging...” – the Koko crowd are en­thralled.

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