Listening to Sun Araw on record, it seems impossible to imagine his music transplanted onstage with any degree of success. His albums are a cacophony of genre-defying sound, seemingly constructed by an army of like-minded cohorts, each clutching his or her own musical weapon and bashing away at it at their allotted moments. So when I walked into the Ottobar and only saw enough onstage machinery for three or four people, I was less than confident that Sun Araw and his band would be able to pull this off.

The show started out somewhat tenuously, with the opening act Run DMT arriving late and pushing the stage time back to 9:30. By the time they finally started playing, it was nearly 10 pm. One of the two guys onstage proceeded to dedicate their performance to the actor who starred in Juwanna Man, explaining that he had died in Philadelphia earlier that day during a Shakespearean production. (The Internet says Miguel A. Núñez, Jr. is alive and well.) A few songs later, he also announced that he would soon be killing Run DMT and starting a new band called “Fleece Foxes.” So they definitely came in with a sense of humor.

The music itself came off like an amateurish Spacemen 3 cover band. Throbbing, steady bass lines accompanied by the occasional drum machine beat, with the Juwanna Man fan sending out shrieking, spacey guitar lines while tweaking a Moog synth. It should’ve worked fine in theory, but instead proved to be a frustratingly unstable performance. You could visibly see the band struggling to stay together, as the bassist kept time with his whole body while the space echo on the guitar hit more off-beats than on-beats. After three songs of this accidental dissonance, barely lasting twenty minutes, Run DMT left the stage, announcing that Sun Araw would be coming on next.

Everything that Run DMT got wrong, the Sun Araw Band got perfectly right.

Cameron Stallones and his two bandmates took the stage armed with an array of guitars and synths, and the music that came from them minutes later was nothing short of astonishing. Each song began with a drum machine and looped synth lines creating a solid foundation, with the band proceeding to add layer upon layer of sound on top of it, until a solid wall of spiraling noise was blasting through the room. The fact that just three men were onstage made it that much more impressive.

More than just being a loud, noisy trio, the Sun Araw Band was an incredibly tight-knit group. Everything they did was calculated and perfectly in sync. At times, Cameron seemed to set synth lines that initially seemed slightly offbeat or out of place, yet a few minutes later, those same odd notes fit naturally into the ultimate layered sound they were creating. The balance between the the three men was impeccable—especially given the fact that each was working with two or more instruments for each song.

The band’s overall sound was decidedly less dub-influenced than Sun Araw’s recorded music, though every bit as trippy. It’s tempting to call it a drone performance, but the music was simply too vibrant to be pushed into such a singular description. (At one point, Cameron even described an upcoming song as a “dance number.”) The whole show as just a whirlwind of dynamic psychedelia that overwhelmed and enveloped everyone in the room. Never gratuitous, never boring, and simply fascinating to watch unfold before your eyes.

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