By Adam Waldman
On the way to see Sunflower Dead open for Mushroomhead at The Chance in Poughkeepsie, NY, Tom Petty’s “The Waiting” came on the radio. As it says in the song…“the waiting is the hardest part.” For Sunflower Dead (and every other touring band), “the waiting” takes up most of your time. When you’re an opener, all of the time spent waiting is for the payoff that takes place for 35-40 glorious minutes of stage time.
The average person only sees the glamor in being a touring musician, and getting to do what you love for a living. They rarely get to see how the sausage is made. Having access to the process gives me an even greater appreciation of the sacrifices that it takes to make it in music these days. In the case of Sunflower Dead, my access is even deeper because frontman Michael Del Pizzo is one of the featured artists on Hard Rock Daddy’s “My Rock and Roll Journey.” If you haven’t been following his story yet, make sure to do so! He is one of the most entertaining storytellers that I’ve ever come across.
I arrived at The Chance a bit later than expected, but still with enough time to hang out with Del Pizzo and the band before they took the stage. Due to technical difficulties with the club’s sound system, “the waiting” was even longer than usual for Sunflower Dead to go on. But when they did, it took less than one song to see that this is a headlining band in opener’s clothing (so to speak).
Given the name Sunflower Dead, the band’s horror-inspired image and their back story, you might expect an intensely terrifying experience. Intense? Most definitely, but not in a terrifying way.
The 35-minute set (which felt like it was over as soon as it began) reminded me of seeing Pantera and Prong in the ‘90s…pure, in-your-face power with no backing tracks or enhancements. Much like Judas Priest, Megadeth and other legendary metal bands, the dual guitar attack of Jaboo and Jamie Teissere added another layer of intensity to the performance. The guitar duo and Del Pizzo comprise a three-ring circus that goes beyond the makeup and wardrobe.
Despite being confined to a tight space as an opening band, the showmanship of Sunflower Dead is what you would expect from an arena band. Although there is a fun side to the band that is reminiscent of Motley Crue, there is also a touch of evil…the perfect blend of light and dark.
Del Pizzo is a maestro at working the crowd, doing things that I’ve never seen from any other frontman. He is the only accordion player (that I know of) in metal. It’s not an easy instrument to make look cool, but Del Pizzo makes you want to take accordion lessons after you see him play live. In fact, he told me that a fellow musician asked him for lessons.
Fans of The Addams Family will appreciate the comparison of Del Pizzo to Uncle Fester. The fictional character used to light up a bulb just by sticking it in his mouth. In real life, Del Pizzo puts (just the tip) of the microphone in his mouth as he gazes like a demonic clown at the crowd.
If I didn’t know him personally, I might be a little afraid of him (in a good way). Wearing a jacket lined with spikes up and down each sleeve doesn’t do anything to diminish the intimidation factor. As he passionately flailed his arms during the performance, I held my breath hoping that he wouldn’t take out one of his band mates. Something tells me that if he did, the band would have played on and the crowd would have loved every minute of it.
Although I’ve mentioned several bands from the glory days of metal in this review, make no mistake about Sunflower Dead’s sound. They have taken all of the best elements of old-school metal and melded them with the best of what the genre has to offer today.
The first time I spoke to Del Pizzo after discovering the band, he shared with me a vision of being a headlining arena band with a stage show that harkens back to the days of Kiss, Motley Crue and the like. Aside from the current climate in rock/metal, Sunflower Dead has all of the necessary elements to make that jump. If we are ever going to see headlining rock/metal shows like we used to back in the day, it’s going to take a disruptive force with the balls to go for it, and the talent to back it up. Sunflower Dead is just the kind of band to do it. They carry themselves like the rock stars of yesteryear, but have the humility and gratitude that you need to survive (and thrive) today.
If you get the chance to see Sunflower Dead as an opener, do it! It won’t be long before they become headliners, and you’ll be able to say that you were one of the first to jump on a bandwagon that promises to be extremely crowded in the future.