Just three weeks following the release of its debut LP “Human Ceremony” and almost exactly a year since its last visit, Brooklyn’s Sunflower Bean returned to The Middle East Club Upstairs in Cambridge for a nearly sold-out show on Saturday, Feb. 27. “Human Ceremony” is the latest chapter in the development of the band’s hazy guitar and psych-rock sound. Called “NYC’s Coolest Young Band” in Rolling Stone’s pages in January, Sunflower Bean’s visit was joined by Secret Lover of Worcester and fellow New Yorkers, Honduras. Local live music series, Illegally Blind, hosted the event.
Midway through Honduras’s set, Sunflower Bean entered the venue through the general entrance and, led by bassist-vocalist, Julia Cumming, proceeded to wade through the front rows of the already dense crowd. At 5 ft. 11 in., the bleach blonde Yves Saint Laurent model’s silent entrance could not go unnoticed.
The high-energy set to come was foreshadowed during sound check when Cumming took a sip of her Red Bull, set it down, then immediately picked it back up and drained the rest in one go.
The next 45 minutes of music featured tunes from “Human Ceremony” as well as classics such as “Tame Impala” from the band’s 2015 EP “Show Me Your Seven Secrets.” The set’s eclectic sounds were perfectly paralleled by the audience’s diversity, which ranged from a roughly 50-year-old person in a massive white fur coat to a drunk, sweaty 20-something to an all-black-clad teen with a septum piercing and a choker necklace.
Cumming’s ethereal vocals floated above the mastery of guitarist-vocalist, Nick Kivlen, and drummer, Jacob Faber, in songs such as “Human Ceremony” and “Creation Myth.” Kivlen’s lower, candid vocals added a satisfying balance to those of Cumming, and at times the two produced an echoing effect as in “2013” in which Kivlen repeats each of Cumming’s words as she asks, “What if I told you you’d live to be one hundred?”
Throughout the set, an especially spirited section of the crowd seemed intent to release its energy whenever possible in the form of moshing, if one would go as far as to label it so. As soon as Faber picked up the pace behind the kit, punches were thrown and bodies clumsily flung around. The passion of these fans should not be understated. When Kivlen’s amp began to malfunction, one mosh member yelled enthusiastically that it “sounded more rock n’ roll” anyway, which seemed to reassure the frustrated guitarist. Kivlen subsequently finished the set with a phenomenal series of solos in “The Stalker” and others that sent his fingers into regions beyond the limits of his guitar’s fretboard.
Perhaps the most intense moment of the show, of which there were many, came during “Somebody Call a Doctor,” when Cumming plunged into the crowd for an epic instrumental performance. Her energy quickly transferred to the rest of the crowd which formed a circle that pulsed in unison along with the bassist to a heavy beat provided by Faber. As if Cumming’s sheer presence wasn’t enough to evoke a strong reaction from the crowd, the band increasingly heightened the tension in the song by playing faster and more intricately as it progressed until finally reaching a resolution after a solid minute or so of buildup.
Following a sensational finale, Sunflower Bean’s members exited stage left to join their friends from Honduras and Secret Lover. The three immediately began meeting and greeting fans, leaving behind their cosmic rock star personas and reestablishing their identities as normal humans.
The next day, the band tweeted from their official twitter account, @Sunflower_Bean, “Boston was unbelievable last night. Thank u so much all who came. 1 of our favorite shows of all time.” The success of last weekend’s show can be attributed to the mutually reinforcing energies of the musicians and their audience members, neither of whom exercised much restriction of expression. If this show was one of the band’s favorites, one can only imagine the satisfaction Sunflower Bean will receive next time it is in town and play to an audience decidedly more dedicated than that of this weekend.