Sonny Smith is a funny guy, so laid back and talkative on stage you’d want to ask him to hang out with you after the show, he looks like someone who has just woken up, holds his guitar high with the neck almost vertical, and tells stories as if he was providing entertainment at an evening with a bunch of friends. He jokes and asks people to stick around till the end of the show even if they ‘suck’, and tells us we are good people, raised by good parents since we are here.
On Friday night, the San Francisco quartet Sonny and the Sunsets was playing at the Echo, and, right away, I definitively liked Sonny’s funny and unassuming talk, relax attitude, constant smiling face and ‘Madness takes its toll’ t-shirt.
The quartet was promoting their third album ‘Longtime Companion’, and the music was mostly country-pop, or purely country like with this ‘Rhinestone Sunset' instrumental, with a nostalgic vibe, twangy guitars and humor transpiring at each song. Sonny Smith did not need to wear a Stetson hat to make us feel the rootsy-old-country small town ambiance on many songs, dealing with heartbreak stories,… but isn’t it always the case with country music? He dedicated ‘Children of the Beehive’, a song about an affair with a divorcee, to the ‘fucked up, broken-hearted and dumb’, I immediately felt included.
I read he wrote this album after breaking up with his girlfriend of 10 years, hence the title, but despite the longing chords and confessional-ironic lyrics, such as ‘When I am looking in your eyes/I see the void’, there was nothing sad about the upbeat attitude of the quartet, with Sonny goofing around all the time, and his bandmates, Tahlia Harbour, Kelley Stoltz, Ryan Browne, Zack Ehrlich smiling or responding to his eccentric humor.
During this easygoing humor, people were dancing along the twangy grooves, the hooky choruses filled with man-woman harmonies, and simply having a good time,… ‘I don't get better. I can’t learn technical stuff’, said jokingly Sonny Smith mid-set, but he was totally fine to my ears, while sometimes talking or I should say rambling and telling stories during the songs, exchanging inside jokes with his bandmates or the audience, making some expressive and quirky faces, playing a sort of village idiot with a rare intelligence, ‘As individuals we are retarded, as a group we are retarded’, he said at one point. It was strange as his sort of nonchalant and I-seem-to-care-about-nothing attitude could transform itself into some real dynamism while playing and shredding all kind of riffs and noises with his guitars.
The style was raw and sincere, with no big éclat or effect, but with a genuine brilliance,… as Woody Guthrie said, ‘Any fool can make something complicated. It takes a genius to make it simple’, and something tells me it could apply here. Before the last song that made Sonny come closer to the audience, he thanked us for accepting them in ‘Los Angeles secret society’, another one of his eccentric way to close the show, as it was all about finding ‘a funny kind of sad joy’ as they sang in the song ‘I See the Void’.