To mark the anniversary of Elvis’ death (RIP), this Sun Rising gig sees a stellar crew of cats assembled onstage to showcase hits from a ridiculously fertile period of Sun Records releases. Our focus is directed towards a rare framed portrait of The King and Sam Phillips together thanks to a spotlight and the stage is dressed with images of other Sun-related artists such as Howlin’ Wolf, BB King, Jerry Lee Lewis and Johnny Cash. Retro red letters spelling out the label we are honouring hang from a mirrorball and precious vinyl is also utilised for its decorative appeal. A lot of love and effort has gone into this set-up and it shows.
The Sun Rising band comprises killer pianist Damon Smith, David Cosma (who Smith later jokes is “on the guitar, jokes and swearing” – if “arse” counts as a swearword), ridiculously talented (and cocky) guitarist Daniel Stain, upright/electric bassist Trent McKenzie and drummer Adam Coad (who apparently keeps the beat for a million bands around town). From the get-go, it’s established that we are in for a night of stellar ‘edutainment’ as Cosma takes us through the background of each track as it’s introduced into this evening’s chronological setlist. Rufus Thomas’ Bear Cat, which we are told is the “answer song” to Hound Dog, is so like the original it instigates chuckles all ‘round. Unsurprisingly, we learn that the ensuing copyright-infringement suit nearly bankrupted Sam Phillips’ record label. The LOLs keep coming as Cosma jokes that My Happiness – Elvis Presley’s first recording, which he paid for himself – wasn’t written by Bernard Fanning. The story goes that the receptionist who was working that day made a note that Presley was a “good ballad singer”. During Blue Moon Of Kentucky, Cosma playfully refers to Stain as (Presley’s first guitarist) “Scotty” (Moore). Stain’s guitar solo proves as awesome as the facial expressions he pulls during its execution. How good is Red Hot (“My gal is red hot/Your gal ain’t diddley squat”) by Billy “The Kid” Emerson? The Toff is limbs akimbo for this one. And let’s bring the term “diddley squat” back into circulation.
Then along comes Johnny Cash. Who knew Cry, Cry, Cry was written in a day? Stain’s eyebrows dance as he sings and there’s a (fake, we’re assured) dollar bill woven through his guitar strings à la The Man In Black. Presley’s Mystery Train is another set highlight. Not long into Get Rhythm, Stain yells “F!” into his microphone and from this we deduce he’s decided to prompt his bandmates. They smirk and exchange bemused glances. Historical tale of the night goes to the one about Jerry Lee Lewis, who allegedly downed a cufflink with a swig of water after mistaking it for a pill. It would take a Whole Lotta Shakin to bring that shit back up!
Most cats in the house dance and bop as if they’re at a “high school hop” throughout the night and there’s a standing ovation from the seated crew. A legitimate encore follows, leading us Down By The Riverside to High School Confidential until we wish Sun Rising didn’t ever have to set. Hopefully this incomparable roster of talent will be resurrected annually to celebrate The King’s legacy.