Shine On

The greatest emo band ever returns. A long-time Seattle fan looks back at a life with (and without) SUNNY DAY REAL ESTATE.


Photography by Jennifer Richard

This is really weird to say, but we are called Sunny Day Real Estate and I guess we are back.”

With those words Jeremy Enigk greets a sold-out crowd at Hell’s Kitchen in Tacoma, welcoming his audience to this secret show on a Wednesday night in mid-September, the first performance of the Seattle band’s much-anticipated reunion tour, which concludes at the Paramount on October 16. Then Enigk reminds the crowd why it has been anticipating this moment, exploding into “Friday” from the band’s second record, LP2.

“How does it sound for our first show in fifteen years?” he asks after the song. Fifteen years! Has it been that long?

RURAL BREMERTON, 1994

The first time I heard Sunny Day Real Estate was in my ’77 Cougar. I was seventeen and spending a lot of time driving: to Everett for bowling, to Taco Bell for seven-layer burritos, to various parking lots to hang out. My portable CD player (with tape adapter) provided a soundtrack for my adventures. But one night, it crashed to the floor after an abrupt stop, sending the battery cover in one direction and the two double-As under the seat.

I flipped on the radio to 107.7 The End and heard the raw and beautiful energy of Dan Hoerner’s guitars combined with the virtually unintelligible singing of Jeremy Enigk. The song was “Seven” and I was hooked. There was something so fresh and purposeful about what I was hearing. Sunny Day had found a way to take some of the best aspects of alternative grunge rock — blurry loud guitars, kick-ass drums — and add expression to it. I felt music in a totally new way when I listened to “Seven.” It would serve as a gateway to unpolished, honest bands like the Pixies and Pavement and later the Wrens.

But before any of that, it would lead me to the Kitsap County Fairgrounds, where I sat on a dirty blanket with my best friend and my best friend’s kid sister. We were surrounded by flannel and Doc Martens. Grunge was everywhere and we were at End Fest, my first big concert (if you don’t count the Steely Dan show my parents dragged me to).

House of Pain and the Violent Femmes were headlining. I recall them both rocking. But before the crowd could blister in the sun or jump up, jump up and get down, Sunny Day took the stage.

I was too young and too frightened by the active, swarming girth of the moshing crowd to join in, so I sat, waiting for the band to play “Seven.” By the time I gathered myself and started pushing into the crowd, they were done. I didn’t see the band again until…

BELLINGHAM, 1998

By the time I was twenty-one, grunge was nearly forgotten, but I was still wearing flannel, likely purchased on sale at Mervyn’s. I don’t recall if I was wearing it when I saw Sunny Day on the night before Halloween, also known as Devil’s Night (which you might remember from ’90s phenomenon, The Crow). I do still remember the last song the band played, “Days Were Golden.”

I also remember that the band on stage that night wasn’t the band I had seen four years before. Since then, Sunny Day had broken up, Jeremy Enigk had released a solo record, and the band’s bassist, Nate Mendel, and drummer, William Goldsmith, had found a new home with David Grohl in the Foo Fighters. When Sunny Day reunited in ’97 to record its third record, How It Feels to Be Something On, Mendel didn’t sign up.

Goldsmith did, though, and it is his simple, pretty drum line at the end of “Days Were Golden” that I remember so well. At the end of the concert that Devil’s Night, Goldsmith extended the end of that song far beyond reason. He continued to play as the rest of the band left the stage one by one. A shiver ran down my spine. It was such a powerful ending to such a beautiful song at the end of such a great set. I had never felt that way about live music before. I felt touched. The music had broken through my cynical northwestern shell. I relaxed.

Soon after, the band broke up again. I wouldn’t see them again, until …

TACOMA, 2009

I have finally rid myself of flannel. The timing couldn’t be worse, judging by all the plaid being worn by the anxious crowd at Hell’s Kitchen. Apparently Sunny Day isn’t the only thing that has returned from my high school days.

The crowd is filled with joyful anticipation. One well-prepared fan throws confetti while the crowd — all of whom paid only a five-dollar cover for this show — waits. I pick out a spot in front, way too close to the speakers, and watch the techs tinker with cords and duct tape. I watch them decide on mic placement when Goldsmith shows up onstage in black coveralls. He tinkers with his kit before performing a series of impressive, Ichiro-like stretches. The crowd salivates.

It isn’t until the four guys actually take the stage, looking closer to twenty than to their mid-thirties, that the crowd relaxes. This is actually happening.

The band starts off its set by attacking the first three songs from its second record, LP2. Then they play the stunning “Song about an Angel” and then “Seven.” A rush of nostalgia engulfs me. The band is tight; it’s impressive, considering the time that has passed. Enigk screams his way through the lyrics with a verve I have not seen from him in his recent solo shows. Hoerner stands to his right, punching out his chords with a tight elegance while Mendel sways happily on bass. By the fourth song, Goldsmith is shirtless. The band’s fierce energy is contagious. The crowd eats it up.

I wonder, will this will be the last time I see Sunny Day Real Estate?


 

The Set List

Hell’s Kitchen, Tacoma, Wednesday, September 16

Friday
Theo B
Red Elephant
Song about an Angel
Seven
Grendel
Shadows
Iscarabaid
5/4
Guitar and Video Games
J’Nuh
Sometimes
Encore
In Circles
48
Spade and Parade