Live Review: Sleepy Sun, Sunday, Feb. 7 @ East End
East End is the kind of place graying music junkies refer to when describing where they saw their favorite band for the first time, “before they went big and sold out.” Its tiny basement of brick feels more like the bottom level of a friend's house than a bar. And, despite obstructive beams and the ability to hear any person in the baby-sized room at any time, the sound is quite impressive.
When San Francisco sextet Sleepy Sun finished its conquering set, I was left feeling a bit like the aforementioned reminiscing music nut. I was left feeling lucky to have seen Sleepy Sun in such a small setting and will refer to that show for shows to come.
The band itself is an electric cauldron of classic guitar one-upmanship. A dirty, Southern inspired psych riff here leads to a fuzzy bluesy solo there, until all six members collapse in a momentary break, heaving to the tune of their still-ringing guitars. What's better, Sleepy Sun puts forth just as much in the way of vocals. The dualism between frontman Bret Constantino and counterpart Rachel Williams is pure and arresting, her celestial voice orbiting around his breathy, volatile intonations. When they're both at full steam and backed by a fleet of swirling guitars, one cannot help but draw comparisons to Jefferson Airplane.
Bar stool banter faded away completely by the band's third or fourth song. In response to the band's preferred track length of 10 minutes, the audience echoed the common question, “Is this really happening?” By then, Sleepy Sun was well into the eight tracks off its wonderful 2009 debut Eternal Sun. Every member showed a look of possession, taken completely by the individual task to collectively create a musical beast so enormous it would haunt anyone who saw it.
The band's mantra, “Let's get weird,” is the chant of hardcore followers. But like a photo caption written by anyone other than the photographer, it fails to capture the whole picture. Sleepy Sun is not simply stoner rock. Just when a breakdown almost wore out its welcome with the help of too many tambourines or shakers, the group changed gears and pounced on a completely new movement. These jumps were always beautifully segued, turning the whole set into a single organism that played until its fingers fell off.
It was announced a couple of days after the show that Sleepy Sun would open for the Arctic Monkeys later this year. I guess this is when I'm supposed to say “Well, at least I saw the band before it blew up.”