Hailed by Rolling Stoneearlier this week as one of the best new voices in roots music, Los Angeles singer-songwriter Sunny War stopped by World Cafe Live this afternoon for a Free at Noon concert. She’s no stranger to WXPN; we named her an Artist to Watch in 2018, and she played a set at NON-COMM that year. (Dedicated concertgoers might have seen her at PhilaMOCA with Bartees Strange that spring, too.)
Those gigs were performed by Sunny War solo and acoustic, raw and gripping. When she took the stage today, a drumkit and amplifiers were set up, but she began on that same solitary note — gliding through the title track of 2020’s Can I Sit With You, delivering nimble licks on “Big Baby” (an ode to her favorite guitar) from 2021’s Simple Syrup, and delving into delta tones on “Got No Ride” from 2019’s Shell Of A Girl, sharing lyrics of resilience: “from the ashes I must rise, turn my pain into pride.”
On the mellifluous “New Day,” those other instrumental stations were filled by bassist Cat Popper, drummer Rob Heath, and violinist / guitarist Morgan Weidinger, and the set shifted into a showcase of the newly-released Anarchist Gospel. The band’s playing was gentle and nuanced, grooving to a snare drum shuffle and Beatles-y chord changes on “His Love” and coming out swinging with the solid Americana of “Whole.” The combo was tight and sublime, with effortless chemistry, and ahead of “Earth,” Sunny War acknowledged that this was their first public gig together. “We’ve played together, but never in front of people before,” she said, and from there they joined in on a gorgeous song about healing a hurt spirit…something Anarchist Gospel and this band playing its songs clearly excels at.
Sunny War’s Anarchist Gospel is out now on New West Records, she plays an in-store at Main Street Music in Manayunk tonight, and returns to the area on February 24th for a show at Kennet Flash. Tickets and more information can be found at WXPN’s Concerts and Events page.