The original lineup of Sunny Day Real Estate returned Sunday night (Sept. 27) to New York for the first time in over a decade, back to remind fans of what first lured them to the band: earnest songs with confessional lyrics, desperately raw vocals and bittersweet, instrumental melodies.
A black backdrop and blue lighting set a fitting stage for the architects of emo, but just before singer and guitarist Jeremy Enigk, bassist Nate Mendel, guitarist Dan Hoerner and drummer William Goldsmith emerged, the lights brightened to a sunny yellow. Fans cheered after recognizing the first two notes of the set opener "Friday," and Hoerner cracked a huge smile that he would wear the entire set.
"Friday" is the first track off Sunny Day Real Estate's recently reissued 1995 album, "LP2," and it pushed the show off slow and heavy. By the time the chorus ripped, though, the band was hurdling over the midway point of its twenty-stop tour. Jeremy Enigk squinted as he belted out grainy high notes, while Mendel rocked back and forth and drummer William Goldsmith broke into a sweat. Hoerner, still smiling, steered his feet along the path of his swaying guitar.
Sunny Day Real Estate's live set might lack the precise, teenage-bedroom intimacy of its studio recordings, but with Terminal 5's reverberation and the vivacity of 3,000 fans, the intensity of those private moments transformed into a different kind of force. Enigk's cries poured over 40,000 square feet, surging fuller than the recordings ever allowed. Sounds once isolated on separate tracks bled together, churning up a wash of energy.
Even in such a densely packed space, though, smaller moments emerged throughout the night -- from Enigk singing the lyrics of "Seven" in a near whisper, his eyes closed, to the gap of complete silence during the epic "In Circles." At a break in the song's bridge, the chanting crowd stopped and gave way to nothingness. And there was the waltz-like introduction to "Sometimes," the final song of the night and the last track on the Sunny day Real Estate's 1994 debut album, "Diary."
"Sometimes" began softly, with Enigk's chords meandering as the band drooped into an extended introduction. Goldsmith's shoulders slumped; his sticks sunk into each note. Enigk sounded exhausted as he slunk from word to word. Then, Hoerner's guitar shone through a bit brighter, and the song awakened the crowd with its eruptive chorus. Enigk's shouts bared an aggression that consumed his body. He dipped towards the stage with his guitar and then resurfaced, grinning as he screamed the last note.
Sunny Day Real Estate's bipolar leaps -- from delicate to jarring -- are its strength, and they translated majestically to the stage. Each note in "Grendel" was played with both weight and agility. In a slightly slowed "Song About An Angel," even the quietest sections held their edge. Hoerner seemed to be laughing, sweat flinging from his face as the band careened from an almost timid verse into a raucous chorus. And the band kept with its habit of breaking into a thick half-time as it introduced each new song. It was Sunny Day Real Estate's ability to sound both intimate and epic, despondent yet elated and polished, but far from pristine, that made its reunion show one to remember.
Here is Sunny Day Real Estate's setlist:
"Song About An Angel"
"Guitar And Video Games"
"Untitled" (new song)
"Spade & Parade"