It was 1995. Or was it 1994?
I surveyed the room, angered by the sea of middle-aged music journalists opting to stand around in their horn-rimmed glasses while Sunny Day Real Estate brought their blend of Midwest emo to a few hundred of us at the Knitting Factory.
My buddy and I had waited what seemed like forever to see our favorite band in the Big Apple, and there was no way in hell that these scruffy and stiff “adults” were going to stop us from dancing our balls off.
So we moshed.
It was a pit of two, nowhere near enough elbows and knees flying in the air to sustain the momentum.
We were asked to stop nicely.
We were asked to stop not so nicely.
We were threatened to stop.
After the show, on the E train back to Queens, we talked about our disappointment in the crowd.
“That will NEVER be me,” the 18-year-old me declared.
It’s only now, decades removed that I see what immature and selfish assholes we were. There is more than one way to enjoy a concert, but maybe that’s just the refinement that only comes with age.
Almost 30 years later, I saw Sunny Day Real Estate at the Paramount Theater in Huntington, NY. It was a blissful reunion. I’m not sure where the time went, but I can confidently say that the band sounded better than they did all those decades ago.
And while I didn’t start a mosh pit (no one did!), viscerally, my body felt every note.
Open the “Diary”
Everything about Sunny Day Real Estate’s “Diary” album appealed to me. The gentle moments that quickly turned aggressive, the waspy indistinguishable vocals, even the CD sleeve which I proudly hung in my bedroom.
Sunny Day Real Estate’s debut album, “Diary,” hit the scene in 1994 with a powerful (pre)-emo sound that captivated listeners. The band’s raw energy and unique blend of vulnerability and aggression appealed to many, making it a staple of the ’90s alternative scene. Critics praised the album’s distinctive sound, while fans connected with the emotive lyrics. Commercially, “Diary” didn’t make a huge splash, but it did gain a dedicated following over time.
On the cover, the daily struggles of human existence are humorously represented by cheerful Fisher-Price “Little People” toys, who always seem to be smiling, regardless of the awful circumstances. Artist Christopher Thompson has tons of cool work.
I’ve never been a fan of the term “alternative music,” for it is a disclaimer and descriptor of nothing. But SDRE did feel alternative: fresh, different, loud, enigmatic, emotive.
As Weezer frontman Rivers Cuomo told Spin in the mid-90s, “Sunny Day Real Estate is one of the most important bands of the 90s.”
And to think Weezer’s “Blue” album “Diary” both came out on the same day: May 10, 1994. Any chance of both bands playing the full albums at the same show for the 30th anniversary? I’d make a decent MC; just a thought!
The “Pink” Album
The follow-up, affectionately known as the “Pink Album,” “LP2” came out just over a year after “Diary,” and I was eager (desperate!) for new SDRE music.
On November 7, 1995, I made the trek from Queens to Long Island to Tower Records in Carle Place, ready to spend my $20 bucks on the new CD for my favorite 90s stereo. I strolled past the record store “listening station,” bought the album, ripped it open, and popped it into the CD changer in my car’s trunk. While disappointed by the lack of artwork and lyrics within the CD sleeve, I was musically satisfied–and so were the critics. But just like “Diary,” the album’s commercial success was limited.
And then the band broke up.
SDRE Intertwined With the Foo Fighters
Some drummer guy named Dave was looking to form a new rock band and was seeking a killer bass/drum combo. So Sunny Day Real Estate’s bassist Nate Mendel and drummer William Goldsmith departed for a little band known as the Foo Fighters. 🙂
Dave Grohl was already a fan of SDRE’s music, telling Rolling Stone, “Sunny Day Real Estate is one of my all-time favorite bands.”
Mendel and Goldsmith jumped on board for the Fighters’ second album, “The Colour and the Shape” (1997).
However, it wasn’t all smooth sailing.
Goldsmith left the Foo Fighters during the recording of “The Colour and the Shape,” reportedly due to creative differences and frustration over Grohl re-recording some of his drum parts. Mendel, on the other hand, remained with the Foo Fighters and has become a key member of the band, contributing to their massive success over the years.
Check out Forgotten 90s Alt Rock Songs Vol. I and Vol. II.
When Sunny Day Real Estate reunited in 2009, Mendel returned to play with them on their reunion tour, juggling his commitments with both bands. It was awesome to see him back with SDRE, rocking out to the tunes that first made us fall in love with his bass-playing skills.
The Foos and SDRE will forever be intertwined. Remind me to tell you the story of when Dave Grohl (gently) called me a pussy.
“How It Feels to Be Something On”
Sunny Day “reunited” in 1997 for “How It Feels to Be Something On.”
With a more refined sound, the album showcased the band’s ability to evolve while staying true to their roots. Commercially, “How It Feels” performed better than their previous albums but still held on to street cred.
Six years after the release of “Diary,” SDRE would release their final studio album. I never realized how brief their recording history was until writing this post.
The Rising Tide
“The Rising Tide” continued the band’s evolution, incorporating more progressive and experimental elements. While not as raw as their earlier work, the album maintained an ambitious sound and strong musicianship.
However, the good times didn’t last forever–nothing does! After the release of “The Rising Tide” in 2000, SDRE disbanded once again. That hiatus lasted nearly a decade, and fans wondered if they’d ever see their beloved SDRE back together.
“Sunny Day Real Estate is one of the most beautiful bands I’ve ever heard,”Manchester Orchestra frontman Andy Hull to Consequence of Sound magazine in 2013
Then, in 2009, it happened!
The original lineup reunited, and fans were thrilled. SDRE embarked on a reunion tour, playing sold-out shows and bringing their emo-tinged magic back to the stage. It was a glorious time to be a Sunny Day Real Estate fan, and it felt like the band had never been away.
Sadly, despite the successful tour and fans’ hopes for new music, the band didn’t release another album. They’ve had their ups and downs over the years, and it’s been a wild rollercoaster ride for fans. But one thing’s for sure: the music they created during their time together will always hold a special place in our hearts.
I rarely find anyone as obsessed with the band as I am. Maybe I need to be hanging around with Death Cab for Cutie’s Ben Gibbard or Paramore’s Hayley Williams; or rocking with Jimmy Eat World, Brand New or Taking Back Sunday, all of who have expressed their admiration for the 90’s alt scene’s “best kept secret.”
Sunny Day Real Estate at the Knitting Factory
So back to the Knitting Factory in 1995 (or was it 1994?), where my SDRE slam dancing drew the crowd’s ire.
I was accustomed to shows at Roseland Ballroom, Irving Plaza, CBGB’s, the Mercury Lounge, etc. But the Knitting Factory was new to me and seemed like an odd venue for a loud rock band.
The dim lighting and wafting scent of smoke were no different than the aforementioned places. Neither was the congregation of flannel shirts, band tees, and Doc Martens. But this venue had a different feel. More ‘grown-up,’ perhaps?
When SDRE took the stage, the intimate space made it feel like a private show. The sound was raw, loud, and powerful, reverberating off the walls and rattling your bones.
But if I’m being candid, the band sounded EH.
Out-of-tune guitars, choppy vocals, etc. I’m not sure if it was the crowd, but there was little connection between the band and the audience. None of these factors stopped us from pouring our black hearts all over the floor. Nor did it make me like the band any less.
I am grateful to have seen the band at the height of their success with only a few hundred others.
Sunny Day Real Estate at the Paramount Theater
Fast forward almost 30 years, and here I am, standing at The Paramount Theater in Huntington, NY, waiting to relive some of my youth with SDRE.
With its beautifully restored art deco architecture and brick walls, the Paramount is a world away from the gritty, dimly lit Knitting Factory of the mid-90s. The air is crisp and clean, a far cry from the smoky haze that once filled the venues of our youth. The flannel shirts remain, and Carhartt beanies are rampant.
The energy in the room is equal parts nostalgic and electric. Fans who had been there since the beginning stood shoulder to shoulder on the floor with those who had discovered SDRE later in life.
The music, still powerful and emotive, resonates with the audience in a way that shows the timelessness of their sound. Watching the band members, now older and perhaps a bit wiser, passionately perform their classics in front of approx. 1,200 people feels like a reunion of old friends – a celebration of the past and a testament to the enduring power of music.
And if I read the vibes correctly, the band was grateful to be there. I know I was.
Mad Love for SDRE
Thirty years later, I finally recognize that there is no right or wrong way to enjoy a rock show. Whether people are sitting or standing, moshing or head-bobbing, singing or not, no one should judge, especially when everyone is there to pay homage to the music that made us. Perhaps I should have learned that lesson earlier, but as I’m sure the band would agree, better late than never.
Thank you, Sunny Day Real Estate, your impact is real, and your musical contributions are appreciated by more than you know.
If you saw Sunny Day Real Estate last night at the @theparamountNY you're kinda old like me…but you GET IT! And these dudes understand! #sdre pic.twitter.com/ycXR1UO1Dy— Pickleball Rookie (@PickleballNY) April 29, 2023
You might like Ode to the 90s Alternative Compilation CD.
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