Last year, Bay Area–artist Sonny Smith put on a gallery show in which he designed sleeves and labels for 7-inch singles by 100 imaginary bands. Smith, who’s also a singer and songwriter, recorded songs for each of them and put them in a working jukebox. One of these bands was Sonny & the Sunsets.
Oddly, Sonny & the Sunsets is not an imaginary band. It had been around for several years before the show, and Smith has a semi-permanent roster of musicians who play on his records and/or tour with him. Among them are prominent members of the Oh Sees, the Fresh & Onlys, the Dry Spells, and solo artist Kelley Stoltz. But in a way that’s hard to pinpoint, the Sunsets sound like an imaginary band — like something you might dream up one day when joking around with your drinking buddies.
For instance, the song “Love Among Social Animals” is a loving parody of a psychedelic band circa 1968 (check out the spoken-word part in the middle where a woman says, “You have been selected by the people of the fourth sun to spread love across the universe”), and “Lovin’ on an Older Gal” sounds like the Velvet Underground covering Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros (if you can get your mind around that). Elsewhere, the Sunsets offer folk (“The Hypnotist”) and a ’50s ballad with lyrics about a two-headed woman (“Planet of Women”). Tying everything together is Smith’s knack with a catchy chorus and his bandmates’ ability to convey an easygoing vibe. Basically, they sound like a bunch of talented friends goofing around, trying to see where Smith’s oddest ideas take them.
The Sandwitches and Earth Girl Helen Brown also perform.
SONNY & THE SUNSETS: Soda Bar, Thursday, March 31, 9 p.m. 619-255-7224. $10.