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Sleepy Sun, Bush Hall, Shepherds Bush, August 17th 2010

August 29, 2010

After the previous night’s taster, I was keen to devour a full portion of Sleepy Sun. Their recent album Fever has been a regular on my iPod in the last few months. Their psychedelic heavy stoner rock does have a nostalgic appeal for the hazy, lazy days of the late 60s and early 70s, when men were hairy and chicks liked a freak-out, but Sleepy Sun are bang-up-to-date too. Their rhythmic pulses and variations owe a lot to a greater appreciation of ‘world music’ than was around in the late 60s – although the psychedelic world was perhaps more amenable to African and Latin sounds than the mainstream rock world was. More importantly, technology allows them to make the sorts of sounds on stage that many bands could make in the studio forty years ago but found nigh on impossible to reproduce live.

The Suit and I are only tentative fans of Bush Hall – the architecture is lovely but the sound can often be seriously substandard. Several potentially great gigs have been tarnished by the booming, muddy sound that often greets bands here. Fortunately, Sleepy Sun had done their aural homework and opening numbers Marina and Open Eyes were heavy, loud and crystal clear. Twin lead singers Bret Constantino and Rachel Fannan have a great understanding and their laidback appearance belies some seriously good singing, impeccable timing and creative semi-improvisation.

Rachel announces the next song, Horses, as a new ‘jammy’ number and it lives up to its promise. At times her voice wails like Björk’s, while at other times she has the vocal clarity of Joni Mitchell or even Melanie. Behind the singers, the band has strong foundations with the solid bass and drums of Jack Allen and Brian Tice, while the controlled roars and whispers of Matt Holliman’s and Even Reiss’s guitars complement each other almost perfectly. The quieter, more countrified songs feature lazy harmonica and picked acoustic guitar, and the songs slow down to a pace close to collapse, but that makes the dusty internal spaces breathe with a gentle vibrancy.

Ooh Boy is another huge number, and the set included a couple of intriguing songs I didn’t recognise – one, with some irresistibly rising major chords, is almost poppy in a classic 60s way, and the other has a booming psychedelic bass line very much in the manner of early Roger Waters. They show that they can do soft and acoustic as well as loud and electric, but the whole set is soaked in the sunny rays of California and its upbeat, loose psychedelia. The set’s final song Sandstorm Woman is, if anything, longer and more jaw-dropping than on the previous night and the band received a rapturous ovation.

Sleepy Sun have not gone unnoticed elsewhere in the musical world. They’ve contributed a fine version of Chicago to the compilation Be Yourself: A Tribute To Graham Nash’s Songs For Beginners, and recently they’ve teamed up with British trip-hop outfit UNKLE for the latter’s latest album.

The encore was a fine toe-tapping Sleepy Son, with an ending that’s similar to Led Zeppelin’s How Many More Times. In fact, their bluesier sound is quite like that of the early live Zeppelin, as captured on the BBC Sessions CD. It’s not so much of a ‘downer’ as a lot of post-Cream heavy blues-rock that anticipated the post-60s comedown and which disappeared up a depressing musical cul-de-sac in the 70s. The less ‘downer’ and more psychedelic blues-rock thread survived, though, and is still alive and kicking in Sleepy Sun’s wondrous sound. Definitely one of my gigs of the year so far.

© Hadas

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