Sunset Sons, supported by Louis Berry: 02 Institute, Birmingham
Updated: Apr 17, 2020
The story of Sunset Sons is as indie-rock as it gets. The quartet of surfers came together in the French surf Mecca of Hossegor, following drummer Jed Laidlaw’s encounter of front man Rory Williams bashing out covers on a local bar’s beachside piano. Three years on and their shaggy hair, baggy T-shirts and suntanned skin remains, but a Polydor record deal and 14 day UK tour have added professionalism to the look. Sunset Sons certainly seem to have caught one hell of a popularity wave, and the Birmingham leg of their gig surge this month was greeted by a crowd brimming with expectancy.
The clue to the sound is in the name. Each track beats with the fervency of young hearts, lit by sunny piano chords, and awash in beach bum cool. What was immediately clear from the live set is the proficiency of each musician’s technique. The guitar riffs and bassline foundations of Robin Windram and Pete Harper range expertly from playful to sultry. Topping the distinctive features bill however are Williams’ vocals. His high range style bears similarity to Clean Cut Kid and Adam Levine, but with added sun-dried abrasion.
But first, no sunset was going to prematurely dim the spotlight on Louis Berry and his gang. The Institute played host to refreshingly diverse support and headliner sounds on Wednesday, and the mischief, sex appeal and old school charisma of Berry stood apart from his hosts as a forceful presence in his own right. The proud Liverpudlian sauntered around the Birmingham stage with a subversive yet charismatic conceit. Possessing the same toughened brashness of budding contemporaries VANT and Otherkin, his confrontational gait beckons you forward with a cheeky ‘think you’re hard enough?’ grin. It’s the keen intelligence of his lyrics though that marks him out as victor over his musical rivals. Teeming with grit, wit and a whole lot of swagger, he sold his feisty real-talk with stamping country beats, and a gravelly sound as thick as his Scouse accent.
Louis Berry: .45 (Official Video, 2016)
There’s a quirky paradox between Berry’s sound and manner, but it works. Just as he’d ‘like to play chess with the devil’, Berry may be defiantly rebellious, but he belongs to a time-honoured tradition of pure rock and roll. The aesthetic draws references from Jake Bugg and Alex Turner, weighted down with a whole lot of Cash. There’s originality in his growl, but otherwise it’s an indulgently cynical formula we’ve heard before.
So unexpectedly, the night’s support act was a pretty imperious act to follow. The unsteady start from Sunset Sons jarred rather against Berry’s suave execution, with Williams’ leadership in particular looking a little forced. Before long however and with some technical glitches fixed, the charisma warmed up and the band settled into their stride.
The set list combined familiar EP tracks with first introductions to the hotly anticipated debut album Very Rarely Say Die (released today, April 1st). Sunset Sons’ new material promises a solid crop of crowd-worthy choruses: heavy beats of Somewhere Maybe and On the Road sprint forward into adventure, whilst She Wants basks in Daft-Punk style sunshine. But whilst the sound calls for spirited live renditions, Wednesday’s delivery lacked a little of the vivacity the music wanted, and promised what never quite arrived.
Sunset Sons: Somewhere Maybe (Official Video, 2016)
Thankfully, when the band maxed out, the Institute met them halfway. With a crowd dominated by besotted fans and the venue’s naturally great atmosphere, the gig made itself. A little more ooph from the stage, and we’d have had a winning formula. Redemptive flashes of brilliance stood as proof that it is all within Sunset Sons’ capabilities. The potential is there, perhaps hidden behind the keyboard that often acted as barrier between Williams and the party.
At the moment the live experience of Sunset Sons doesn’t quite catch the wave, and it is left to their well-crafted album to show this band at its best. It’ll be interesting to see how many ripples it causes. A little more stagecraft, a bit more work with the crowd though and this band could create a seriously good show. It’s all to play for.