It’s rare that an album gets played live in full one month after its release – usually that type of reverential treatment is reserved for ageing records and surrounded by a whiff of nostalgia. But when you’re Sunflower Bean – one of the brightest, most exciting bands around right now – and you’ve made an album as glorious as ‘Twentytwo In Blue‘, why wouldn’t you commemorate it like that?
Tonight (April 26) is a party – that’s clear before the band even walk out on stage. There are big, blue helium balloons spelling out the album’s name lining Bowery Ballroom’s back wall, like decorations at a surprise party that’s just waiting for its guest of honour. When the trio arrive for their first hometown show since ‘Twentytwo In Blue”s release, they’re greeted like returning heroes. Cheers, screams, and applause ring around the room for what feels like an age before the band actually appear from the wings, only intensifying when fans on the left of the room spot guitarist Nick Kivlen about to step out under the lights.
It’s not just Nick, frontwoman Julia Cumming and drummer Jacob Faber standing in front of us tonight, though. For this special occasion, the band have brought some new players into their gang. There’s Julia’s high school friends Marcela and Claire on backing vocals, an extra percussionist (Zoë), a keyboardist (The Lemon Twigs’ Danny Ayala) and, at various points, the record’s engineer Jarvis Taveniere on acoustic guitar, and co-producer Matt Molnar on bass. It’s hard to imagine the Bean’s second album sounding any better than it does on record, but these additions help take it even greater new heights.
The glam stomp of ‘Burn It’ sounds even more ferocious thanks to the forceful weight of a rhythm section doubled in size, and Julia’s urgent call to “burn it to the ground” feels more powerful because of it. Resilience is a big theme on the album, but, particularly on semi title track ‘Twentytwo’, it takes a more euphoric form here, as if celebrating everyone in the room being united in toughing it out and making it through all the world’s current trials. ‘Crisis Fest’ reinforces that even more, Julia punching the air with her mic as the crowd defiantly, jubilantly shouts the “No, no, no!” refrain back at her.
Having an expanded band tonight also allows Sunflower Bean to make the most of their other side – the dreamy, beautiful one. ‘Only A Moment’, an emotional ballad Julia wrote for a friend, gets a new arrangement that builds and swells until everything but the frontwoman and backing singers dissipates, leaving just three glass-cut voices to bring the room to an awed silence. It’s incredibly powerful, and one of the night’s most special moments.
Once ‘Twentytwo In Blue’ is played through, the band disappear, only to return minutes later for an encore of their early songs. They kick it off, though, with a cover of Neil Young‘s ‘Harvest Moon’ that’s, in contrast to the rest of the night, stripped back and sparse – just the original trio, plus their friend Brandon, whose been pulled up on stage to celebrate his birthday, on tambourine. A few songs later, the whole cast from tonight is back, dancing around the band on a fiery ‘I Was Home’. Mid-song, Julia whispers something in Danny’s ear and he dashes to his keyboard for an impromptu solo that, in true Sunflower Bean style, turns into something rousing and rapturous. Earlier in the night, Julia asks the crowd: “How are we ever gonna go back to normal?” It might be hard to beat tonight, but, luckily for Sunflower Bean, they’re the kind of band that can carry this same infectious, fun spirit whether there’s three of them on stage or 30.