Sonny and The Sunsets @ The Lexington, London 09/05/2011

May 16, 2011 by  

Sonny Smith began his musical career as a blues pianist, playing to a bar crowd for $50 a week. He?s come a long way since then to The Lexington in Angel to perform songs from his extensive repertoire and promote the band?s new album, Hit After Hit: an album that continues in the vein of Sonny?s back catalogue, with oblique lyrics contrasting vintage pop melodies and laid-back West Coast grooves.

Hit After Hit lends itself well to live performance: the two or three minute songs of the record are elongated by jams on stage, albeit only by another minute or two. This is because Sonny isn?t one to drag something out and his ethic of ?getting to the heart of the song? certainly pays off. Refreshingly, the band doesn?t work to a set-list: song-names are thrown around until one takes off, or Sonny will play the first few bars of a song until the rest of the band join in. It?s an unreliable formula that leads to a few awkward exchanges and dragging interludes, but generally contributes to a lively, unpredictable performance.

For a band that is constantly changing members, The Sunsets are extremely comfortable with each other. Tahlia Harbour plays a decisive role in choosing the direction of the performance, debating with Sonny what songs to play whilst switching between tambourine and guitar and providing backing vocals. Tonight?s drummer is also an invaluable addition to the band and skilfully navigates spontaneous jams with Sonny, reining in and pushing on the groove. All the while, Sonny and bassist, Ryan Browne, provide the momentum of the performance as Browne hops around the stage like a possessed bunny and Sonny artfully manoeuvres smooth and shifting foot movements.

As the band disembarks the stage towards the end of the show, Sonny plays a plaintive solo number, Life is Like a Mondrian, which provides a contrast to the amiable garage of the rest of the set. With the return of the band, the groove returns: the crowd becomes rowdier, the band gains more momentum and then the curfew drops… I have a feeling that Sonny and The Sunsets would play all night and I wish that they could have.