When Sunflower Bean guitarist-singer Nick Kivlen took the stage at the sold-out Bowery Ballroom Thursday night and promised a special evening, he wasn’t kidding around.
The band celebrated the release of its sophomore album “Twentytwo in Blue” (Mom + Pop) and returning to its home base after a successful European run by playing the album in its entirety – a gamble that paid off wildly by not only showcasing the strength of one of the year’s best indie-rock releases, but also the artistic power of Glenwood Landing’s Kivlen, singer-bassist Julia Cumming and drummer Jacob Faber, a Glen Head native.
In an era dominated by singles, Sunflower Bean’s “Twentytwo in Blue,” so named because the trio’s members are all 22, was created as an album-length journey through turbulent times. Seeing it performed live made it even more stunning.
Cumming makes the dreamy single “Twentytwo” sound more defiant in concert, leading the crowd in the sing-along chorus of “I will not go quietly.” She encouraged them to scream “No! No! No!” in the raucous “Crisis Fest,” even practicing a few times. And Kivlen turns up the fuzzy, glam-rock guitar in “Puppet Strings” to make it stomp harder.
However, the night pivots on the gorgeous ballad “Only a Moment.” Cumming and Faber team up to create a Cocteau Twins-styled backdrop for Kivlen’s aching, “Sleep Walk”-styled guitarwork. When all of that drops out – leaving Cumming and two friends from high school singing, “You’re exactly where you’re supposed to be” a capella as almost a chant – it sounds like an epiphany. And it opens the door to the rest of a set filled with joyous songs and gathering strength, ending with “Oh No, Bye Bye” and the idea of unity making things all right. (Cumming took a moment to plug the new group Anger Can Be Power, aimed at making young people more politically active, and announcing that the band will be at the group’s Williamsburg meeting on Saturday.)
With “Twentytwo in Blue” completed, Sunflower Bean used the encores to show where they came from, tackling a lovely version of Neil Young’s “Harvest Moon” and songs from their debut “Human Ceremony.” As nice as that was, where the trio is heading looks far more promising.
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SETLIST: Burn It / I Was a Fool / Twentytwo / Crisis Fest / Memoria / Puppet Strings / Only a Moment / Human For / Any Way You Like / Sinking Sands / Oh No, Bye Bye // ENCORE: Harvest Moon / Right Now / 2013 / Easier Said / I Was Home