Live Report: Sunny Day Real Estate

Irving Plaza, New York, September 28, 1998

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Most live shows follow a pattern: Open with something catchy but obscure; move into the new material, sprinkling in a couple of old tunes for the faithful; close with the radio hit; encore with another radio hit.

And while Sunny Day Real Estate are hardly ones to heed rules, they unabashedly smashed them last night as they opened with "In Circles," the only SDRE song to travel along a bandwidth ... and that was back in 1995. Blowing their wad in the first three minutes? Hardly. Sunny Day were just getting the cumbersome "hit" out of the way, ridding the room of fairweather fans who had come only to scream along with the only song they knew. But few left after song one, and the overstuffed room pleaded for more of Sunny Day's pain all the more as they were pierced by the band's fierce vocals, exploding guitars and weighty bass lines.

It was surprising that much of the audience was well under the legal drinking age, considering Sunny Day had only one full-length album, '94's Diary before they parted ways. (They also had one posthumous release, a self-titled record affectionately nicknamed "the Pink Album" by fans.) The group played few shows (none in California with guitarist Dan Hoerner, who refused to fan the flames of the media circus burning in Los Angeles), granted no interviews, and put the band to rest while singer/guitarist Jeremy Enigk went in search of a higher inspiration. Namely, Jesus.

Consequently, precious few in the audience had ever seen Sunny Day Real Estate, the band at the core of emo-core, perform live before last night. When word of the reunited group spread (sans original bassist Nate Mendel, who's been playing with the Foo Fighters since '95; drummer William Goldsmith had also joined Grohl's band at the same time, but left after the recording of The Colour and the Shape in '96), devoted fans of the mythologized band held their breath for the release of How It Feels to Be Something On, SDRE's first since they got back together this year. And even though the album had been on the shelves a mere six days, the cult of Sunny Day that dominated the crowd already knew all the words.

And the new songs dominated the set. Playing no less than eight of the ten songs off their new album, Sunny Day made intensely emotional and beautiful noise that showed incredible maturity. Where the older songs were a bit rough around the edges, the new songs sparkled like lusters on a chandelier, with each song reflecting the light and color of the others. And while many bands lose an audience's attention mid-set, Enigk and Hoerner kept the energy level peaked, lowering the bar only for seconds between songs to graciously thank their fans.

Each of the 13 songs sparkled, but there were obvious stand-outs. "Every Shining Time You Arrive," with its acoustic opening and soprano chorus, and the delicate "Guitar and Video Games," radiated to the back of the room, where the lesser fans lurked around the bar. Even from the back, concert-goers could see Enigk's eyebrows serving as commas, giving his emotions pause before allowing them to pour dramatically from his mouth.

Closing with "Rodeo Jones" off the Pink Album, Hoerner, Enigk, Goldsmith and replacement bassist Jeff Palmer of the Mommyheads exited to much imploring from the crowd for a return. And with a gushing remark by Hoerner ("Every time we play in New York, it gets better!"), they did, with three more emotive, soaring, moody melodies. No radio-hit close, no rock-star posturing. Just utter sonic bliss from a group making their valiant return from obscurity.