When I arrived, expecting to be a bit late, the Bullingdon was packed out with eager fans. Knowing how to create an atmosphere of anticipation, Sunflower Bean were making us wait, ironic from a band whose career trajectory is looking anything but sluggish. Their new single ‘Come For Me’ featured recently on Annie Mac’s Future Sounds as her hottest record in the world, the band have supported Mercury Prize winners Wolf Alice and are about to tour with alt-rock legends Interpol. The New York three-piece is comprised of Julia Cumming on lead vocals and bass, Jacob Faber on lead guitar and vocals, and Nick Kivlen on drums. They are joined on the English leg of their tour by Danny Ayala (aka Dr. Danny) on keys.
When they finally made their way on stage, the band spent little time on pleasantries and moved swiftly into their very solid opener, 'Burn It'. I’d not heard much of their work before Sunday night, but having listened to a few songs online to get the gist, I was pleasantly surprised at how much heavier Sunflower Bean are live than they are on the record.
Their sound set-up was excellent throughout, loud and layered enough to fill the Bullingdon forcefully. Having been to see Slaves at Alexandra Palace the night before, I wasn’t expecting anything remotely as high energy (or as loud) but Sunflower Bean delivered on both fronts. Faber’s extra mic, which looked and sounded like a retro phone receiver, was a novel part of their set-up and gave his backing vocals a hint of the Strokes’ infamous vox effect. In fact, Sunflower Bean’s sound is that of New York in the early 2000s combined with a healthy 80s influence (in both sound and attire), and you can hear the faint influence of groups like Fleetwood Mac being toyed with and developed.
Julia Cumming on lead vocals was seriously impressive and powerful throughout, and where sometimes a front-woman with a soprano range can be drowned out by the power of her band, or forced to float on top like an afterthought to the main crux of the band’s mix, Cumming’s voice punched its way through, as strong as any other component, without being the only thing you could hear. At times their sound began to veer towards pop-punk, and I was pleased when a prominent bass riff or elaborate tangent from Faber and Ayala on the lead guitar and keyboard brought us back to their initial vibe.
What’s most intriguing about Sunflower Bean is the difference between their records and their live performances. The Bullingdon may not be a huge place, but equally it’s no room out the back of a pub, and Sunflower Bean’s sound feels like it’s outgrowing the mid-sized venues they’re now accustomed to playing; the band and their sound are itching to fill a bigger space, and deserve to do just that.