Show Review

Sunflower Bean @ Mahall's 3/4/16

Lisa Sanchez

When I first heard Sunflower Bean, they gave me the same impression I got when I first listened to Nico and The Velvet Underground. I can't explain why because Sunflower Bean are far more energetic and reach a level of instrumentation that I don't think The Velvet Underground ever strove for. The similarity may lay in the band's ability to cultivate an aesthetic that is completely their own.

Sunflower Bean fall into a recent trend of bands that try to sound like they're from the 90s. Except, despite their age, Sunflower Bean pull off the sound without aping that signature feel. Even better, it’s not the only thing that makes them interesting. The band, despite their rich, atmospheric garage rock sound, is only made of three people: Nick Kivlen on backing vocals/guitar, Julia Cumming on bass/vocals, and Jacob Faber on drums.

The Brooklyn trio recently released their first full-length album, Human Ceremony, at the beginning of February 2016 and have been touring in support of the album. On March 4th, the band made their first visit to Cleveland by playing Mahall’s in Lakewood.

I could feel Sunflower Bean’s focus from the moment they stepped on stage. Their aesthetic is minimalist, Kivlen only used one beat-up guitar, but relied on an effects machine to achieve the band’s varying distorted, euphoric, and discordant effects. From the outset, Sunflower Bean wasted no time getting into the groove at Mahall’s and they stayed that way for their entire hour long set.
​The trio flawlessly melted songs into jam sessions, then segued into their next tune. I became hypnotized by what I can only assume to be Kivlen's improvisation. His guitar work was simultaneously too fluid and too manic to be rehearsed. He screeched and bent the guitar to limits I've never seen up close and personal. If any other performer has ever done that in my presence, it lacked the raw delivery and inventiveness of Kivlen’s signature guitar work.

When the guitarist went into a groove, Cumming and Faber  didn't take their eyes off of his lead. In those moments, the drummer and bassist played consistent, droning accompaniment. However, the band stayed together perfectly despite improvisation, tempo changes, and abrupt stops. Cumming looked so focused that I think she went into a trance herself. Watching her head bop back and forth to the beat made me dizzy. The whole performance gave off an intimate feeling. While the band was excited to play Mahall's, they were also entirely focused on what the other was doing, offering a cohesive, enthralling, performance.

I can’t speak enough about Sunflower Bean’s one of a kind riffing. The members demonstrated impressive musicianship, but also presented the audience with a medley of guitar sounds and effects from classic rock days of yore. Plus, they may have transported me into the future. It was like watching Black Sabbath, Blue Oyster Cult, and The Velvet Underground blend into a group of 20-somethings who kneww the secret to psychedelic universe space travel.

Sunflower Bean is one of those bands that justifies paying money for live music. I had listened to Human Ceremony before the show, but seeing the band live takes it to another level. You see Cumming and Kivlen time their call and response on songs like "Human Ceremony" and "2013," but also experience the gutsy melodies on "Wall Watcher" and gentle hooks of "Easier Said." Sunflower Bean has the ability to do a lot with an individual song, but they don't overload their work with noise for the sake of it. 

I expected to be entertained at Sunflower Bean's show (as I am with most dream pop bands), but I didn't expect to be floored by the young band's presentation and style. Since the show at Mahall's, I've recommended Sunflower Bean to anyone who will listen. That's what I'm going to do to you now. Listen to Sunflower Bean for all of their trippy, enigmatic, future beautiful riffs and hooks. Get ready to be transported to a place where all is beautiful and the jams are right with the world.