Birmingham is lucky enough to have some excellent venues: there’s the Hare & Hounds down the road in Kings Heath, The Castle & Falcon as well as larger venues like the ever dependable Institute. The Sunflower Lounge, however, is maybe the best of the lot. Tonight, the wonderfully intimate downstairs room plays host to three well-suited bands.
First up, The Sunset Beach Hut laugh (often literally) in the face of adversity, revealing that just yesterday, their guitarist quit the group. Rather than pull tonight’s gig, a hastily arranged rehearsal saw the drummer abandon his kit and pick up an acoustic guitar, and the band pulled off quite a feat in playing a pared down version of their set, which was littered with sunny Frente meets The Sundays pop. Recent single ‘Upside Down’ was a highlight.
All the way from Japan, four-piece Homecomings soon endear themselves to the crowd with a selection of tracks spanning their five-album career. They are superbly tight, with singer Ayaka Tanimoto’s voice complemented really nicely by backing vocals from bassist Honami Fukuda and drummer Narumi Ishida. Homecomings’ sound is like an expensively-produced version of C86, their jangle-pop sound coming over a little in the vein of The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart at their most punchy. ‘Hull Down’ is one of the songs that makes their most recent album Whale Down a very good use of your money.
Debut single ‘I Want You Back’ is a joy, and the fact that they can end their set with a song called ‘Perfect Sounds Forever’ may show that there is a confidence below the shy exterior. Energetic guitarist Yuki Fukutomi is the one who interacts most with the audience, lecturing on sushi and revealing a fascination with the good old British jacket potato, as well as talking of his love for New Order, The Smiths, Aztec Camera, Teenage Fanclub and The Cure. Homecomings go down an absolute storm and are possibly the only band ever to play The Sunflower Lounge to include a printed handkerchief in their range of merchandise.
Headliners, Hull via Boston, Massachusetts’ Night Flowers deal in a branch of shoegaze music with a keen pop sensibility and tunes to spare – they begin relatively gently with 2016 single ‘Sleep’, a record that, if it had been released in, say, 2006, would have probably made the Top 40. That isn’t to say that the music is dated – it certainly isn’t – more that a band like Night Flowers would be lucky to reach the charts these days even though their songs are supremely commercial, in a good way, with singer Sophia Pettit’s vocals combining really nicely with those of guitarist Greg Ullyart throughout. And how the charts badly needs a band like them.
‘Embers‘ follows and is the oldest song on show tonight (from the 2014 self-titled E.P.), and is received warmly by the friendly crowd. Last year’s debut album Wild Notion provides several tracks, including the supreme recent singles ‘Losing The Light‘ and ‘Hey Love‘ The band come over like the underrated noughties band Captain mixed with a little Slowdive, and the five have a lovely on-stage chemistry. Brand new track ‘Night Train’ shows they have more sparkling songs in reserve too.
The band wrap up with the last two from the album albeit in reverse order, ‘Cruel Wind’ heading into the beautiful ‘Fireworks’. Night Flowers might just go overground pretty soon, but for now, catch them at the small venues while you can.