SUNNY DAY REAL ESTATE, with NO KNIFE, at the Guvernment (132 Queen's Quay East), Tuesday (July 4). $15.75. 870-8000. Rating: NNNNN
P erhaps the only thing more startling than the reformation of Washington's vaguely mysterious Sunny Day Real Estate is the towering beauty of their new CD, The Rising Tide. Though they've always favoured pretty over punchy, nothing pointed to this.
A recap of events so far. Band forms near Seattle and is instantly branded a solid bet for stardom, cultish or otherwise. Singles are released, Sub Pop enters the picture, and soon singer/songwriter Jeremy Enigk's churning weepers are racking up fans left and right.
Band is resolutely low-profile, though, passing on photo shoots and interviews and literally letting the music speak for them.
Christ's sake Enter Jesus Christ. Enigk's conversion to born-again Christianity doesn't sit well with the other members, so, after a second disc, it's over by 95. Bassist Nate Mendel and drummer William Goldsmith defect to the Foo Fighters. Guitarist Dan Hoerner trades picks for farming equipment.
Enigk, meanwhile, returns with a quietly stunning and not especially godly solo record, Return Of The Frog Queen. By 97, Goldsmith, Enigk and Hoerner are back in business, presumably having settled what kind of message their lyrics would be transmitting.
A new deal with Time Bomb is worked out, and The Rising Tide -- quite possibly the loveliest, most elegant and crushingly sad pop record you'll hear this year -- steps from the shadows. And, despite his super-shy rep, Enigk is on the phone.
Obviously, all is well in the world of Sunny Day Real Estate. Many discussions must have preceded their return.
"Actually, everybody knew everybody else's position, so it was pretty obvious how we were going to proceed," Enigk offers prior to a non-smoking Guvernment gig Tuesday.
"I'm a chain smoker," he confesses, and of Export A no less, which Goldsmith introduced him to during his teens. "But it's a non-smoking show because there'll be people there with children in their stomach.
"Anyway, we didn't really have to draw any lines. We're friends first and bandmates second, which made it a little easier."
Though a keyboardist and bassist are along on Sunny Day's current tour, Enigk played bass on the disc after a couple of trials with outsiders failed to click. He also sang more songs in falsetto, a cause of consternation as he attempts to perform them night after night live.
Wholly trinity Regardless, Enigk says the trio lineup actually helped the band reclaim some of their early spirit, which was then massaged into shape by producer Lou Giordano.
"When I joined the band, Sunny Day was a three-piece," Enigk says, adding that while the band is his current focus, he plans to continue making "experimental, crazy" solo records and maybe soundtracks in the future.
"Our original bassist was on tour with an old punk band called Christ on a Crutch and so Dan jumped in on bass back then and I played guitar. So we knew the ropes.
"It was all about writing the songs and having fun. And that's what we did with The Rising Tide as well. Ultimately, we're songwriters and not bound to one instrument.
"And, yes, I agree there's some real melancholy on this record, but most of the music I write comes from a sorrowful place inside me.
"The weirdest thing about this reunion," Enigk concludes, "is that the reaction among fans when we were reforming was like we were the hugest band in the world. It seemed like we had more fans now than we did when we broke up because we broke up. We sold out a 2,000-seater in Seattle. That was pretty special for us."