MUSIC | Sunflower Bean: Huggy Bears

Sunflower Bean (Photo: Hollie Fernando)

Sunflower Bean came to The Wardrobe in Leeds to rock, and maybe give away a few hugs at the same time… Words: NEIL MUDD

The hotly tipped New York trio Sunflower Bean, here to plug new album Twenty Two in Blue, has been described as an unholy union between Black Sabbath, The Go-Gos and the Velvet Underground.

Given the violence with which they attack their set at The Wardrobe in Leeds – rubber limbed guitarist Nick Kivlen breaking a guitar string from the get-go – to that list of comparisons, you can add The Stooges. (Instead of 1969, Sunflower Bean has 2013 which struts with the same swagger and cocksure conviction).

Come On is dumb fun writ large using rock’s finest gabba-gabba-hey letraset. Bass player and singer Julia Cumming lets rip with all the insouciant threat of Patti Smith replacing Kate Pierson in the B52s. Twenty Two is an ironic coming of age story that tips its hat to Blondie’s Union City Blue.

A couple of detuning catastrophes threaten to derail the band’s Rolling Thunder momentum. In between bouts of wrangling with his guitar, Kivlen takes the opportunity to say how much The Wardrobe reminds him of the band’s favourite venue back home. The guitarist more than resembles Dylan in his thin wild mercury prime, but the way he throws himself about onstage is all his own.

Cumming calls it that Leeds is the best show of the tour and the audience dissolves into partisan chants of Leeds! Leeds! Leeds! which then morphs into Yorkshire! Yorkshire! Yorkshire! when it becomes obvious there is no clear consensus. Either way, Cumming is bemused. “Is that what you guys do here?” she wonders.

The band scorches through Sinking Sands and I Was a Fool (a rare vocal from Kivlen), the latter like AC/DC doing the Double Dutch.

For the encore the band performs  slow number Any Way You Like which is their first misstep of the evening. Sunflower Bean are being touted as a kind of lo-fi Fleetwood Mac, but this is the only time all evening that the charge sticks. A comparison like that can become something of an Albatross, but all is well again with the closing number which detonates in the tiny venue like a bomb.

Earlier on, Cumming had promised ‘the greatest hug you’ve ever had’ to every person who paid for a download of the new album via iTunes. Though I didn’t wait around to find out, I’m guessing she was busy at the merch table for a long time afterwards.

Sunflower Bean play Invisible Wind Factory in Liverpool tonight. More tour dates here.