Live Review: Sun Voyager at Rushing Duck Brewing in Chester, NY, 06.05.21

Posted in Reviews on June 7th, 2021 by JJ Koczan

Sun Voyager (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Things were markedly less tense at Rushing Duck Brewing Co. than when I was fortunate enough to see Sun Voyager play there (review here) exactly nine months prior. The sign outside said if you’re vaxxed you can take off your mask or do whatever makes you comfortable at the bar, and outside there were more tables than there had been and there wasn’t a question of waiting in line to get in on a one-out-one-in basis like there had been. It was much more akin to showing up to a place to catch a gig. Hard not to appreciate that.

And all the more worth appreciating in such an idyllic setting. Across the way, hills as a backdrop for farmland. When we — The Patient Mrs. accompanying — pulled in, people were in the field picking-their-own something or other, and a tractor rolled by while Sun Voyager played “Some Strange” in the second of their two sets. The usually-a-trio were joined for the evening on second guitar by Seth Applebaum of Ghost Funk Orchestra who filled out the spaces beneath Carlos Francisco‘s leads while offering further psychedelic flourish of his own. I don’t know if they’re thinking of that as a permanent lineup change, but you could see where over time he would fit well into the band. Already they grew more fluid as they went on.

The show started at 5PM, or thereabouts, and it was warm in the shady spot off to the side as The Patient Mrs. sampled a couple of Rushing Duck‘s offerings — she dug the Saison-style, as she will — and the band got going with a mix of new material and old. I don’t know how much info about their next record is public yet, but “Feeling Alright” made a righteous leadoff for the first set, and “To Hell We Ride,” the aforementioned “Some Strange” and the extended, now-two-parter “God is Dead” fit well alongside cuts from their 2018 debut, Seismic Vibes (review here), like “Trip” — which was a suitably raucous complement to “Feeling Alright” in opening the second set — as well as “Open Road,” “Harebrained,” “Stellar Winds,” “Psychic Lords” and “Caves of Steel,” which finished out, as well as earlier works like “Space Queen,” “Be Here Now” and “Desert Dweller.”

FranciscoApplebaum, bassist/backing vocalist Stefan Mersch and drummer Kyle Beach careened and propulsed. They were motorik and winding and full of classic biker rock thrust and post-pandemic dustoff. It was fun to watch them. In the long-long ago, Sun Voyager operated as a four-piece, and while they’ve hardly felt like they were missing some essential component of their sound in the meantime, their psychedelia only reached broader and their jammier stretches came through all the more relaxed, with the space to space out, for having Applebaum there on guitar. The fact that he and Beach are also bandmates in Ghost Funk Orchestra no doubt cut through some of the new-guy-in-the-group awkwardness, and while I wouldn’t doubt that Sun Voyager would be more locked in as a unit after, say, three or four weeks on the road playing every night, so would everybody.

There were friends and family there, adults and kids and infants, and the vibe was heavy-hippie relaxed and rockin’. Perfect for the sunshine that mercifully offered up more shadow as time went on. Wrapping their first set with “Space Queen” — a song that’s coming up on eight years old and shows roughly none of that age in how they deliver it; it is a standard of live sets and rightfully so — they took a break to get a drink, sell some shirts to myself and others, and catch their breath before diving back in with “Trip.” The diversity of their approach at this point, especially as they move toward their second long-player, is a significant asset for them in terms of structuring a setlist for a live performance, and they would seem to know it.

That is one more reason I’ll say this feels like a particularly exciting moment to see Sun Voyager play live. They’re a better band than they know, maybe about to add a new member to the group on at least a semi-permanent basis, with a record on the way that takes their approach to an entirely new level. It’s finished and my understanding is they’re doing the shopping-it-around thing. I can think of three or four imprints off the top of my head on whose rosters they’d be a fit and whose audiences would welcome them. Maybe five. But wherever they end up — inevitably somewhere — the quality of their work remains worthy of being heard even as their potential is still expansive. I was a fan of Seismic Vibes. Hell, I was a fan of Mecca (review here) in 2013. In terms of growing as a band, as players and songwriters, they have not at all wasted their time in the years since, even if they haven’t put out more than the one full-length to this point.

I hope to see them again soon, and that’s about as deep an insight as I’m going to offer here. Once more, I don’t know if, when that happens, the band will comprise three or four players, but I’m glad to take what I can get from these guys. Here’s hoping their record is out before the end of the year. If not, next year’s list it is. I’ll spare you the wax poetry about live music in the pandemic era — it’s all been said and I’m enough of a hack without indulging. I was grateful to be able to go to a place with my wife and see good music. I didn’t take video because I was concentrating on enjoying myself. The band killed. On another planet, that kind of thing happens all the time.

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Live Review: Sun Voyager at Rushing Duck Brewing in Chester, NY, 09.05.20

Posted in Reviews on September 7th, 2020 by JJ Koczan

Sun Voyager (Photo by JJ Koczan)

My whole question coming into this was how much of a show it was going to be. Outdoors, masks on, early start, limited capacity, at a brewery celebrating its eighth (I think) anniversary. Do I need earplugs? Do I bring my camera? Should I be worried about a crowd?

The last time I went to a show was January, and I know the last couple years have seen me out and about less than, say, the decade prior, but I’m still pretty sure that January to September is the longest stretch I’ve had without a gig since before my then-girlfriend/now-wife got her drivers license. Before the turn of the century, let’s say.

But bassist Stefan Mersch of Orange County, NY, psych rockers Sun Voyager posted yesterday on Thee Facebooks that they were playing a private event and to message him for info. I did and it seemed doable.

So how much of a show was it? More when Sun Voyager started playing, for sure.

Earplugs, yes. Mask, outside, and all the rest of it as (not) advertised. I’d have to set up a complicated series of charts to determine how much of a show it was, but Sun Voyager played two sets. Vocalist/guitarist Carlos Francisco, Mersch and drummer Kyle Beach were roped off in their own kind of triangle in the gravel parking lot, and the socially-distant gathering of people, some there for music, some for dinner and beer, were seated at tables probably farther apart from each other than they were last summer. It was more show than I’ve been to in eight months, I’ll tell you that.

Between their two sets, most of 2018’s Seismic Vibes (review here) was aired, songs like “Trip,” “Open Road,” “Harebrained,” “Stellar Winds” and “God is Dead” peppered throughout, some running into each other, some interspersed with older material like “Gypsy,” “Be Here Now” and “Space Queen” from their earlier EPs, and what I’ll assume were newer songs in “Some Strange,” “I’ve Got a Feeling” (not a cover), “Feeling Alright” and an extended, speedier push added to “God is Dead” that led well into “Caves of Steel” to close out the night. They noted that it was maybe the third time they’d played together since before lockdown started in the New York area, leaving open the implication that they were shaking off some rust. Well shit dudes, me too. Also, everyone.

Please know I’m not exaggerating when I liken sitting in a folding chair and watching Sun Voyager play “Space Queen” to a kind of communion experience. It was during the second of the two sets — there had been a short break in between and I saw Anthony DiBlasi (ex-Witchkiss, currently Triggered and a new band called Inherus he was talking about that sounded pretty cool), and some local friends of Sun Voyager‘s; there is a certain kind of young-ish white guy who is pretty certain he invented subtle sarcasm, alas, I’ve yet to meet one who did — and I managed to kind of relax my shoulders a little bit, slow my breathing behind my mask, close my eyes and roll with what the band were playing. It had been so long. It sounds silly, and felt that way too, sitting out in the daylight instead of being hidden away in some dark, probably-cramped-enough-to-give-you-anxiety-dreams venue, but it was real and it happened. I’d be dishonest if I didn’t note that feeling.

Their new songs bordered on motorik and it was fun trying to figure out on first listen whether they were outright refusing to cross over to full-Hawkwindian kosmiche in a defiance of genre or if they’re just too punk, in which case they’d be playing to a different genre in an off-hand way. Yes, I mean the word “fun” that sentence. Sun Voyager were that. Francisco‘s between-song commentary loosened up as the sun started to go down, and the place generally seemed more comfortable, or maybe that’s just me projecting. Either way, with Mersch‘s bass tone properly classified as “statistically significant,” Beach‘s propulsive swing behind and a due course of wah in each solo torn into, there was just no way I wasn’t going to enjoy myself, looming threat of plague or no.

Francisco said at one point they’d been working on an album throughout these long months, and that’s something Mersch discussed this Spring as well, but of course I’ve no indication of when a new release might surface and, really, why on earth would you hurry to put something out between now and, say, next March? What, are you gonna on tour? Gonna open up a bunch of shows in NYC? Gonna have a big release party? There you go. Live streams and lyric videos are all well and good — I won’t complain about either — but there’s a reason people have been saying all this time that there’s no substitute for live music, and it’s because it’s true. Sun Voyager tossing “Be Here Now” into the second set only seemed more poignant in this context.

I’m not going to try to make it more than it was. Frankly, I don’t think I need to. It was an unmitigated pleasure to get on the New York Thruway, see that pre-Catskills scenery as I headed basically the straight shot north for just under an hour, then arrive at Rushing Duck and be able to watch Sun Voyager play. It felt rejuvenating in a way I’d missed even more than I think I realized, and while it was a world apart from last time I saw them in the cramped side-room space at The Well in Brooklyn (now gone) just last April at Desertfest New York (review here), it was, as DiBlasi put it, “proof of life.” It happened.

Stars were coming out by the time they were finishing. I might’ve stayed and checked out that sky for a bit, but I knew I’d need to be up early in the morning and the day behind was weighing as much as the day ahead, so I split out on the quick and headed back south. The progression: 87 to 287, 287 to 80, 80 to 202. Numbers all familiar, all feeling to some degree like home, as did the show I’d just left.

Thanks for reading.

Sun Voyager, “Some Strange” live at Rushing Duck Brewery, Sept. 5, 2020

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