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Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Sleepy Sun @ The Stonefly Brewery

April 1, 2009

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It's a rare occurrence indeed to stumble upon a band that has garnered lavish critical praise in its adopted hometown and has more than provincial appeal. San Francisco's psyched-up and -out sextet Sleepy Sun, despite an all-too-brief set and an unhealthy dose of second-hand smoke, delivered a live performance worthy of their recent laurels. Sleepy Sun's current lineup has been extant a little over a year, and for all their floppy, felted haberdashery, Lomographic press photos and heaven-bound lyricism, they practice what they preach, translating their heady studio sound to the stage.

With a successful turn at South by Southwest last month and a devoted following in the Bay Area, the band embarked on an ambitious tour in support of their upcoming debut, Embrace, for All Tomorrow's Parties. With another album in the works, the band's relocation from an enclave in the Santa Cruz Mountains to their communal home in San Francisco has poised them for far more than a second cross-country bar tour. And all that good fortune doesn't appear to have gone to their heads.

Limited by time constraints, Sleepy Sun had no time to sprawl into the lovely, folk-tinged territory from Embrace, a dynamic album that sounds as though it were conceived during an orgiastic aural copulation between Blue Cheer, Can, and Lorraine Ellison at a serpent handlers' revival. Instead, the band leaned on the heavier tracks. With a blast from the fog machine for the near-eponymous epic "Sleepy Son," the set began unassumingly with a sweet and soporific duet by Bret Constantino and Rachel Williams. Followed by bluesy emissions from Constantino's harmonica, it grew quickly to a fervid, sonic cluster of chords, with Constantino and Williams wrangling the chaos of three guitars and Brian Tice's pounding percussion.

Ensconced in thrashing riffs and stripped of gratuitous vibrato, Williams' powerful voice belies her sylphid stature. The band kept up the momentum with "New Age," the opening track that sets the tone for Embrace and culminates in a fusillade between guitarists Evan Reiss and Matt Holliman, leaving Constantino and Williams, by turns, wailing and sultrily breathless.

The set ended with "Snow Goddess," one of the few tracks from Embrace without Williams' smoky vocals. Williams hopped off the stage and bravely banged her head along with a particularly drunk and bearded interpretive dancer. Suddenly swaddled in a bear hug, Williams took the demonstrative gesture of gratitude in stride. When the set was over, another wide-eyed man turned to his wife and asked, a mite reproachfully, why she hadn't told him about Sleepy Sun sooner. If fate or fortune should deliver Sleepy Sun to these parts again, consider this an alliterative forewarning.