Halfway through Sunny Day Real Estate's set on Friday night, guitarist Dan Hoerner started talking to the audience. "I have to ask myself--is this really happening?" he wondered out loud. It's a valid question to have, and one that longtime SDRE fans probably asked themselves that night. For years, it seemed unlikely the band would ever reunite, let alone play Seattle. But for the past month, SDRE has been touring the West Coast, and when they took the stage at the Paramount on Friday, it was the first time all four original members had played together in their hometown in 15 years. "I've been waiting for this the whole tour," Hoerner told the crowd, and they responded with an echoing roar.
Sunny Day Real Estate ended a 21-show tour Friday night at the Paramount in Seattle.
The Paramount performance wasn't much different from SDRE's other reunion performances so far. They played songs primarily from Diary and LP2, their first two albums; the only exception was "Guitar and Video Games" from How It Feels to Be Something On. Halfway through the hour-and-a-half-long set, they performed their much talked-about new song. SDRE sounded much better in Seattle than they did in Portland last month; Enigk's voice was in full form, sounding nearly identical to the screaming vocals from 1994's Diary.Seeing the band perform after all these years--and to know that they're playing the same songs they wrote 15 years ago--is definitely a nostalgic experience. And to some extent, it's hard to imagine any reason besides nostalgia motivating fans to see the band live. Except for that one new song, SDRE aren't playing new material; they aren't even playing songs from their most recent album, 2000's The Rising Tide. (The band hasn't talked publicly about why this is; the best guess is that the album was recorded without original bassist Nate Mendel, so there is resistance to the material.)
But beneath all that nostalgia--and the novelty of seeing a band with a legendary break-up story reunite--there's something refreshing about seeing a traditional, four-piece band with no gimmicks and no tricks live. SDRE is just four guys, playing their hearts out. And for the most part, their songs have held up over the past 15 years. The middle of the Paramount set--especially some of the more shoe-gazing tracks from LP2--felt slow, but Diary is still an example of smart, original songwriting. On "Song About An Angel," Enigk's vocals are lightest over the heaviest parts of the song, and when that combination is played live, it sounds more like perfect pop than angry emo.
If SDRE is going to move forward from this tour--that is, start recording a new album and building a fanbase beyond aging emo fans--they've got to replicate the energy and talent of their encore at the Paramount on Friday. They saved their most popular song, "In Circles," to open the encore, and the crowd went crazy. They followed with, "48," one of the most emotional songs on Diary with the heaviest guitar parts.
Neither song sounds anything like the kind of independent music being made today (emo is less fashionable now than the pure pop of a band like Grizzly Bear, which also played Seattle on Friday), but they're examples of what SDRE does best: translate emotion into music. And compared to "In Circles" or "48," the band's sole new song feels lackluster. Hoerner may have been waiting anxiously to play in Seattle again, but SDRE have been waiting, too. And they're still waiting to see if the band can one again write music with intensity and originality, 15 years later.