Sunflower Bean and Porches @ SummerStage 2018, NYC

After a weekend of thunderstorms – some of many that can be expected during a New York summertime – the rescheduled free show featuring Sunflower Bean and Porches (casualty Crumb, who were on the original bill) raged at the East River Park amphitheatre in the Lower East Side.

Presented by City Parks Foundation, SummerStage is New York’s largest free outdoor performing arts festival, offering gigs from musicians in a wide variety of genres and levels of fame a stage across all five boroughs for more than three decades. With many of the shows being free, the annual series of events are truly a place to celebrate and support the arts in one of the most quintessentially global cities in the world.

Sunflower Bean are up first, with golden hour just hitting the stage as they begin with songs from their latest album, Twentytwo in Blue, released early this past spring. They even have a new keyboardist to groove up some of their songs – notably, ‘Crisis Fest’ is given an enjoyable boost. This is their homecoming show, however, since being on tour across the US and Europe for the last couple of months to promote the album, which means they’re playing the oldies.

“This one goes out to the people who have been going to our shows for a couple of years now,” lead singer and bassist Julia Cumming says before delving into ‘2013’, from their first album, and – as a surprise to me, at least, thinking they no longer played this song – the garage/psych marathon through heavy melodic guitar riffs ‘Tame Impala’.

To close out the set, they masterfully morph ‘I Was Home’ into a cover of ‘Electric Feel’ that definitely catches the crowd’s attention, before an extended guitar solo ends the song and it’s almost time for Porches.

“Croc-star” Aaron Maine – so dubbed by a crowd member because of the vibrant rainbow crocs the lead singer and guitarist is wearing tonight – released the third full-length studio album under the project Porches earlier this year, full of refreshing techno interjections and expansive instrumentation with his ever-changing group of talented musicians, who joined him onstage.

Opening with the 2014 hit ‘Forgive’, originally featuring Frankie Cosmos’ Greta Kline, it’s a sickly-sweet synth-pop opening to what appears to be a delve into the past. The theme for tonight is treating New York to the musicians’ roots, the songs that got them noticed in the big city; like Sunflower Bean, Porches’ set is heavy on the older tunes, not even touching any of the tracks from recent release The House until halfway through. All the better for us, with gooey bass and expansive synth soundscapes coming from all corners (literally – there are so many keyboards and sample pads up there).

Dark electronics give way to soft-yet-evocative vocals before the band moves into The House’s evolution of Maine’s songwriting. Glitzy and shiny, yet dynamic all the same as he’s been able to prove in the past, the band puts their own spin on the electronic tunes, with discordant guitar riffs and walls of sound between songs. Maine’s biggest interaction with the crowd is occasionally speaking gibberish to or making sounds at the crowd as they repeat it back – at least until the encore, that is. On an unexpected encore (for a festival, at least), the band returns for a second play of ‘Country’, Maine steps down into the pit and greets those in the front row before saying goodnight.

Words and images by Francesca Tirpak

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