“Is that it?” was a popular question asked by Sonny, lead singer/guitarist of Sonny and the Sunsets during his performance at the Outer Space in Hamden, CT. Sonny asked the question upon the completion of nearly every song; as he explained to the audience, the band had no prepared a set list. While the question was always asked with a smile–clearly as a joke–the band’s disorganization was anything but funny.
Essentially, Sonny and the Sunsets wrote a set list of two songs and then figured they would wing the rest. I don’t know if they overestimated their popularity in Connecticut but the half-filled dive bar lacked suggestions whenever Sonny asked, “What do you wanna hear?” Still Sonny and company managed to stumble through psychedelic pop tracks and Velvet Underground-esque jams until two-thirds into the set when backing vocalist/guitarist/keyboardist Tahlia Harbour took charge. Upon the completion of a song, Harbour immediately suggested another one, which Sonny and company rarely turned down.
The last third of the set showed off what Sonny and the Sunsets do well: walking baselines, fervent one-note guitar solos, and male/female harmonies. The band rattled through the country-tinged “Pretend You Love Me,” a sped-up version of “Death Cream,” and the grittiest song of the night “Teen Age Thugs.”
While the set wrapped up nicely, it did not quite make up for the transgressions of its opening. As the crowd exited the Outer Space, I heard more whispers about opening act, Little Wings, than I did about Sonny. Comparing the two sets, Little Wings was clearly superior. His avant storytelling folk sounded like Neil Young doing a lounge set on acid. Despite its quiet nature, the crowd was captivated by the third song. This was due in part to Little Wings’ quirky stage presence, which included running in place while playing guitar, some of the worst guitar face I’ve ever seen, and odd hoedown-esque dancing. Still the onstage antics did not distract from his main talent–the lyric writing.
Perhaps it was not a surprise that as Sonny and the Sunsets stumbled through the first part of their set, more and more of the crowd that had gathered for Little Wings dispersed. The disorganization left a majority of the crowd believing that Little Wings was the best act on the night–and he was.