Sunflower Bean returns to San Antonio

Cesar Soto, Staff Writer

Four years had passed since the New York power rock trio Sunflower Bean played in San Antonio — until last Friday, Oct. 28, when they brought the bands Blushing and grandma to take the stage at Paper Tiger. It was a very intimate show featuring these three bands and a crowd that fully embraced them, celebrating live music in more ways than expected.

First up was Blushing, an Austin-based dream pop, shoegaze band that features two husband and wife duos — Christina Carmona on lead vocals and bass, Noe Carmona on guitar, Michelle Soto on guitar and background vocals and Jake Soto on the drums. Once the band took the stage, it was apparent how much chemistry exists between the four musicians.

There were plenty of moments where the band showed their joy by playing through their discography over their 30-minute set. During their more powerful moments, the two women would fall to their knees, shredding their guitars alongside each other while the two men kept playing away on the same page. Their music’s more indie rock style contrasted nicely with Christina Carmona’s ethereal vocals. The entire band was completely in tune with one another, providing a great start to the show.

Cesar Soto

The second artist to take the stage was grandma. A multi-instrumentalist based out of Atlanta — who writes, performs, produces and mixes all of his music — brought along a live band to bring his vision to life. Hilariously coming out on stage to the recording of a recent viral New York City press conference where the mayor declared war on the rats, he and his band were very light-hearted on stage. Cracking jokes throughout their 30-minute set about things like stopping at Buc-ee’s to get a smoked brisket sandwich only for it to mess him up, his first time in San Antonio was one he was ready for. 

The musician performed on stage with black baggy pants and an even baggier black coat and did so with so much swagger. Even with the small stage not allowing the most movement, he truly had the best energy of the night, commanding the stage with the excitement he put into his performance. There were even unexpected moments, like when he would pull out a trumpet in the middle of some tracks and completely nail that part of his performance. While the songs ranged from rock to indie pop to occasionally even funk, they all felt like songs that came from one person’s DNA. No two songs of his sounded remotely the same and with tracks performed like “Downtown Life” and “Blue Atlanta,” it was great fun to see an artist that is unique in the approach they take with their music.

The night’s headliner was Sunflower Bean, touring to promote their newest album, “Headful of Sugar,” which was released this past May. They began their set by performing songs off that album, with the title track being an early highlight of what all three band members would be capable of doing for the duration of the set. The trio, consisting of Julia Cumming on lead vocals and bass, Nick Kivlen on guitar and backing vocals and Olive Faber on drums, go through an array of sub-genres within their rock music. Delving into indie rock, psychedelic rock and even punk rock, Cumming’s voice proved to be perfectly suited to all of them. 

They said that they missed being in San Antonio after such a long gap and their excitement to premiere all their new tracks for the audience was evident. Songs like “In Flight,” “I Was a Fool” and “Who Put You Up to This,” allowed Kivlen and Faber to really show off their guitar and drum playing skills respectively, which the crowd ate up. Their best moment was their finale “Somebody Called a Doctor”, with the band initially playing out the song in a similar fashion to how they played their others; however, they sped up the tempo towards the end with punchy guitars and aggressive drums to finish the night out with a bang.

It was terrific to see three hardworking bands who are genuinely passionate about creating and performing music on stage. The bands supported each other all night, always shouting out the other bands and cheering them on while the others were performing. The bands were also always there to help, with the headliners having minor technical difficulties with their instruments and grandma’s bass player volunteered immediately to let them use theirs. They made sure it was properly hooked up, to which Kivlen proudly stated, “That’s my grandma.”

The audience shared this same energy, such as when a dad brought his 10-year-old to the show for her birthday to give her the experience of live music. There was also an instance where Sunflower Bean let a fan in the crowd who knew all the words sing “Easier Said” into the mic, with the crowd encouraging him along. Seeing all of these things take place served as a reminder of what makes live music like the kind played tonight so enjoyable.