27 Sep 2009: Terminal 5 New York
Time has a way of magnifying myths. In the world of indie rock, this is especially true where enigmatic, mysterious acts are concerned. With every passing year of silence, the legend of bands like My Bloody Valentine and Neutral Milk Hotel only grew stronger. Of course, it doesn’t hurt to stoke the flame from time to time, so Jeff Mangum pops up unannounced at shows while Kevin Shields promises new material at every opportunity. Sunny Day Real Estate—yet another shadowy band who have only grown more popular in absentia—seem to be taking a different approach. Now on their second reunion (the first one, which occurred in 1997 sans bass player Nate Mendel, produced two albums and a live record), the band seems content to toy with fans’ expectations by breaking up and reforming as the mood strikes them.
But that’s not to say that anyone is complaining. On Sunday evening in New York City, 3,000 fans packed themselves into Terminal 5 to witness Sunny Day Real Estate’s triumphant return to the stage. Cooler-than-thou posturing was immediately dispensed with; despite their age (most of the folks in attendance seemed to be in their late 20s and early 30s) these fans were unembarrassed to pump fists, bob heads and sing along at full volume throughout the course of the night. Clearly, Sunny Day Real Estate are a band that inspires a rare kind of devotion in their fans. If you want to understand why, you need look no further than their intense, technically impressive live show.
While some might consider “Friday” an odd choice for an opening number, the members of Sunny Day Real Estate seem to understand that it’s best to ease into these things. The song’s gradual ebb and flow gave the mind time to adjust: yes, that really is Sunny Day Real Estate performing in front of your very eyes. Naturally, when the band launched into “Seven”, the opening track from their landmark debut Diary, the crowd absolutely lost it. Every aspect of the song was reproduced faithfully, from its coiled delivery and start-stop dynamics to its driving bassline and thundering drums. Most surprising, however, was Jeremy Enigk’s voice. Though he was only 20 when Diary was recorded—he’s now 35—his voice doesn’t seem to have aged a day. From gentle coos to hoarse screams, Enigk’s vocals are still Sunny Day’s secret weapon—the emotional payload in the band’s post-hardcore warhead.
As the night wore on, it became quite clear that the members of Sunny Day Real Estate remain some of the most proficient musicians in the punk rock scene. On songs like “47” and “Iscarabaid”, Enigk and Dan Hoerner’s intricate guitar lines dovetailed and interlocked beautifully. Nate Mendel, meanwhile, wove his bass lines into the spaces in between while William Goldsmith punished his drum kit with reckless abandon.
While the set was heavy on selections from Diary and LP2, the band made time for a few brief detours. “Guitar and Videogames”, from the more restrained How it Feels to be Something On, provided a welcome respite from the bombast of earlier tracks. When the band chose to debut a new song (labeled ominously on the set list as “**NEW SONG**”), however, the reception was noticeably less warm. A close cousin of the prog-rock-leaning songs on The Rising Tide, the new number was greeted by what can only be described as polite silence.
Luckily, the band managed to recover quickly, washing away any awkwardness that the new song may have engendered with old favorites like “47” and “J’Nuh”, the latter of which featured an extended coda—marking one of the few times during the night that a familiar song would take an unfamiliar turn. To close out the set proper, the band chose “Sometimes”, wringing every last bit of catharsis out of the song’s epic closing.
For the encore, the band wisely mixed the predictable (“In Circles”, perhaps the best-loved song in the Sunny Day catalog) with the unexpected (LP2 B-side, “Spade and Parade”), ending the set with “48”, a track that in many ways epitomizes the tension and release approach that drives Sunny Day Real Estate’s early work.
This being the second time that the band has reunited, it’s anyone’s guess as to what happens next. Clearly, the band members have ventured to write new material together and judging by the amount of smiling on display onstage (especially notable for a band with a reputation for being morose), it seems that much of the original chemistry is still there. Though it’s fun to speculate, perhaps we should just be thankful that we’ve gotten a second—or third, as the case may be—bite of the apple. 15 years after Diary first presented the band to the world, it’s nice to be reminded why Sunny Day Real Estate are so fondly remembered—and why their influence seems to only grow stronger over time.