It was a quiet Saturday evening in Highland Park, right in the middle of a lazy holiday weekend. I arrived early to the rather empty Hi Hat, watching guests slowly trickle in as they buzzed softly with muted excitement. Members of Sleepy Sun mingled comfortably with friends in the crowd, languidly talking and laughing with an ease that corroborated their veteran status. As the lights dimmed slightly, last minute addition to the bill Kacey Johansing began the show with a mellow set, accompanied by one band mate on guitar and the low murmur of the gathering crowd. Drizzling over the audience like the soft patter of a summer rain, Johansing’s brand of soulful soft pop waxed and waned almost imperceptibly as guests casually observed in between sips of beer.
Soon following Johansing was Big Search, most recent project of Californian singer-songwriter Matt Popieluch. Beginning the show with a solo acoustic tune played on a twelve string guitar, Popieluch was joined on stage by his band members for a set full of softly careening folk music. Setting the band apart were their richly resonant vocal harmonies that echoed off the rafters and gave way to expansive and textured instrumental breaks.
Finally it was time for the main act, and the area in front of the stage that had previously been vacant was soon flooded by the waiting crowd. After carefully setting up and checking their own instruments, Sleepy Sun returned to the stage with explosive energy, launching immediately into their most recent single “Seaquest.” They continued with several more tastes of their yet-to-be-released LP followed, with a raw energy that a studio recording could hardly hope to capture.
Lead singer Bret Constantino was the lightning rod that powered the entire set, convulsing with the solemnity of a revivalist preacher in the middle of anointing his disciples. He seemed to be transported to another place entirely as his piercing blue eyes stared directly through the crowd with intensity and yearning. As the band continued through their rollicking set, they were joined by Whitehorn Singers’ Hannah Moriah, who provided backing vocals on Private Tales and took the live place of Rachel Fannan on several of their older tracks. Highlights included a rendition of “Sandstorm Woman,” which was given new life with Moriah’s powerful belt and Constantino’s plaintive harmonica riffs.
Sleepy Sun finished off their hour-long set with a soulful performance of “Marina,” which quickly devolved into a percussion-only dance party. Soon thereafter, they were coaxed back onstage by a drunken crowd for an roaring encore consisting of their ten-minute epic “Maui Tears.” Thus, the evening ended with this perfect night cap, an amalgamation of all the energy the room still had to offer, up until the very last note. The satisfaction was palpable as the tenants of the venue happily stumbled out into the cool night air, primed and ready for whatever else the night had to offer.
When the Morning Comes
It’s Up to You
Maui Tears (Encore)