Review + Photography by John Hayhurst

Self-assured visionary American girls in rock music, there’s an endless supply of them at The Wardrobe in Leeds on a Tuesday night. Jesse Jo Stark, Miya Folick and the incomparable Julia Cumming of Sunflower Bean all hugely impress on only the 2nd date of this UK tour.

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Don’t you just love it when you go to a gig to see one artist and walk away at the end of the night with 2 more favourites on your ever-growing list. Tonight, was just that and every one was a female superstar – who says there is a shortage of inspirational women in music today? They need to see this tour for a start!

Jesse Jo Stark is a sultry creative force in both fashion and music, who wouldn’t be with Cher as your fairy godmother! Her hips twisting (even in vicious high heels) seem to defy gravity at times, all the while singing in a Lana Del Ray meets Lou Reed vocal style and her band rocking out some psychedelic fuzzy backing music.

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“You’re All Very Quiet” she asks in her LA drawl before ‘Dandelion’ is belted out to the waiting public. We weren’t even allowed in the venue till 8:30pm, so running almost an hour late we wondered if everything would be cut short. Thankfully it wasn’t, and Stark even had time for a cover of ‘Bette Davies Eyes’, which, whilst a known song fell a little flat in Yorkshire. However, the much perkier (I think it was called) ‘Devil on the Phone’ restored us back to drooling at this gothette beauty squirming on the floor whilst gazing in those smokey ‘not quite sure you’re in there’ eyes. From Hollywood to Leeds, it transferred surprisingly well and hopefully won’t be the last time we see her this side of the pond.

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Next up on the small stage was Miya Folick who on facebook says that she “plays music because forming thoughts into sounds blends emotional and rational thought in a way that turns me on. I met my band on Tinder.” Folick is an intense performer with a voice that can boom like Siouxsie Soux one minute and then be tender or controlled like Sinead O’Connor the next. A strikingly beautiful face camouflaged with a bizarre homemade bowl haircut, ‘Cost Your Love’ sets the tone for a vocal and expressive workout for the next 30 mins. She darts around the stage wearing orange baggy trousers and a ripped sleeved t-shirt tied up to show her midriff. Holding her arms out to the audience she brings them in and then hits out with a crystal-clear choral note, a mesmerising show as you keep wondering what could happen next. ‘Thingamajig’ is a beauty, soft and mellow her voice cuts through the hazy guitar and keys, wanted to hear more of that style as well as the bouncing pixie vision.

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Folick alternates between playing guitar and leading with just vocals, all the while her music is kept at pop sensibilities with a darker edge that enables her to go off piste Bjork style, particularly during ‘Deadbody’, which occasionally renders her bent double or completely on the floor. ‘Give It To Me’ has a vomit inducing video accompanying it, but tonight she impressed so much that a photographer asked me if this was the main act tonight? I said “Well let’s see how Sunflower Bean perform before I decide” – It was a tough call!

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I keep forgetting that Sunflower Bean are still a relatively new band, Julia Cumming the main focal point is a woman with attitude, model looks and yet is still only in her early twenties. The band have been a support act to many other breakthrough indie/rock bands such as Wolf Alice and have toured relentlessly in the last few years in the States. That live experience is going up a notch with every performance and now it is an electrifying show that they bring out on the road in the UK – Cumming is all hair flicks, voice and that big Rickenbacker bass strapped to her slim frame. Not unlike Lzzy Hale she does cut an imposing sensual figure on stage and as the band launch straight into ‘Burn It’ the feel is much more glam rock than indie pop.

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Mixing styles, they go all psychedelic and prog with ‘Tame Impala’, Nick Kivlen using an old phone handset as a mic for more atmos distant vocals and Cumming is playing the dirtiest bass riff throughout which bizarrely at one point starts to sound like the opening to ‘War Pigs’ by Black Sabbath. Then she initiates an audience call and response of “No No No” during ‘Crisis Fest’ which this happy crowd lap up and join in.

The most jangly of tunes in ‘Twentytwo’ completes this switch from Glam to Punk to Psychedelia and back to sugar soft jingly pop, it’s all good and never relaxes into one genre. Sunflower Bean have really got it all and surely it is time for them to step out from the also rans to claim a prize for themselves, recent single ‘Come For Me’ is an absolute belter which should be on all radio stations playlists, live it cuts new highs and sounds very raw and unlike the Prince feel heard on the record.

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Tonight was a fantastic evening of discovery and all led by 3 incredible female performers, a taste of the future, unexpected but hugely satisfying, and another unmissable tour – which you really need to get out and see!


Miya Folick:
(possibly not in the right order) – Thingamajig / Cost Your Love / Leave the Party / Stop Talking / Stock Image / Deadbody / Freak Out / Give it to Me

Sunflower Bean:
Burn It / Twentytwo / Tame Impala / 2013 / Easier Said / Crisis Fest / Human For / Come For Me / I Was a Fool / Only a Moment / I was Home / ENCORE: Harvest Moon / Memoria / Wall Watcher

LISTENING: Sunflower Bean: Album ‘Twentytwo in Blue’ (released March 2018), ‘Come For Me’ latest single

WATCHING: Studio Full Performance on KEXP

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