Sonny & the Sunsets at Vera Project, Seattle | 22 January 2010
There is little evidence from listening to Sonny & the Sunsets‘ Tomorrow Is Alright album that would clue you into them being a band that wants to rock. Tomorrow is a mellow, lazy record that floats in and out of your conscious while it’s playing. It’s a record that mixes parts Everly Brothers and Syd Barret with an alluring haze of warm reverb. It’s pleasant understated with a fine sense of humor that you might not get the first time listening to it, but if you give it a chance it will likely worm it’s way into your brain like one of those pesky alien races in so many Star Trek episodes.
So I went to the Vera Project on Friday night expecting a somewhat mellow, but fun set of songs from Sonny and the Sunsets in their opening slot for the Fruit Bats. What I got was a rocking energy filled set that totally blew the recorded versions of his songs out of the water. Sonny Smith is obviously a fan of Jack Lee, Paul Collins, and Peter Case, because live the Sunsets came off as a latter day version of the Nerves, the seminal band that got it’s start in the same bay area that Smith and his band call home.
The power pop versions of these Sunsets songs had the band working up a sweat. Sporting a well worn hollow body guitar, Smith was a wise cracking jovial front man, asking for a stick of gum because he thought his breath was smelling bad and then later some deodorant. He got multiple offers of gum, but no one had any deodorant he could borrow. I don’t know if it was intentional to make the songs totally different than the record, or if it was just the way his band made them sound, but it was definitely a good thing. On record Smith gets help from some notable friends including Kelley Stoltz, and Shayde Sartin and Tim Cohen of the Fresh & Onlys. Not surprisingly none of those guys were in his band, but the Sunsets Sonny had in hand are no slouches. The bass player was my favorite, laying down riffs that were part beat, part melody. Smith’s playing was inspired too, verging on rock-a-billy at times. This gig was one of those that totally takes you by surprise and makes you see a band and album in a new light. It was so good, I wish he’d go back an re-record the entire record in this style.
I tried to hang for all of the Fruit Bats, but they weren’t really my thing. That was not the general consensus in the room as it was packed and included (not surprisingly) some Sub Pop intelligentsia.