Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Concert Review: Nada Surf at Metro, April 2nd 2012

I'd started to doubt Nada Surf. Mea culpa.

I had been hemming and hawing about going to this concert for a while, which surprised me. I fell in love with these guys the first time I saw them play one snowy March evening at the Metro in 2006. At the time they were bubbly over the fact that they'd sold the place out, something they'd make a habit of in the coming decade. Since then I'd seen them enough to collect autographs, shake hands and even have them dedicate a song to my then-girlfriend as an anniversary present the last time they played the Metro in 2008. Now, I found myself falling into the "it's good, but not great"-trap when thinking about their new album and wondering if I really needed to see the latter-day group touring off it.

This was foolish, I see that now.

To start with, Nada Surf is touring with not just an excellent opening band, but one whose style perfectly compliments theirs. An Horse are an Aussie male/female duo whose monstrously catchy choruses were aided by buzzy, amplified jangle that drove the melodies straight into the back of your brain within the first verse. The crowd wasn't particularly early-arriving but those there clearly enjoyed themselves (and a good thing, given a generous eleven song set) while patiently waiting for the main show.

Though they made their first four albums as a committed power trio, Nada Surf has expanded in recent years and now tours as a five piece with Matthew Caws (guitar), Daniel Lorca (bass) and Ira Elliot (drums) being supported by Doug Gillard (Guided By Voices, The Oranges Band) on lead guitar and Martin Wenk (Calexico) as a multi-instrumentalist. For someone who thought the pure, three-piece days were the band's live heyday, I'm now happy to report that this incarnation of the band is easily its strongest.

They opened with the first two songs off The Stars Are Indifferent To Astronomy and by the climax of "Waiting For Something" I realized just how inaccurate the claims of the new record's "live" sound were when compared to the real thing. Elliot and Lorca shone as their steady yet supple rhythms enveloped and drove the song forward with the drums crashing through at all the right places - it was a corker. They then burned through fan favorite "Happy Kid" along with solid album tracks from Lucky, The Weight Is A Gift and more the new album, before really hitting their stride. Doug Gillard's solos, especially on new material, burned through Caws' hazy guitars and Lorca's supple bass giving the songs melodic support and sonic bite while the rest of the band was a well-oiled machine.

Then they turned it up a notch. Their end-of-the-world assault showcased just what a devastatingly effective last call song "Killian's Red" with more muscle than the band's used to showing. This would be followed by sweet, dreamy pop productions which would, in turn burst back into cathartic energy. Just as my friend and I were joking about Wenk phoning it in, he busted out his trumpet for of Proximity Effect classic "80 Windows" (what other song could actually make you believe a line as cheesy as "the moon is farther from the sun than I am from anyone"?) which reinvigorated the old chestnut. An all-electric "When I Was Young" not only moved more quickly but featured a full-band so satisfying you could feel it. Rave ups "Concrete Bed" and "The Way You Wear Your Head" showed that the old dudes hadn't lost the energy either.

As I watched and listened to Matthew Caws sing about wanting to want you, I looked down at the crowd at the Metro and thought about Cheap Trick. Not a critical darling, they, but one with a depth of songwriting that would surprise many. You could say a lot of things about Cheap Trick, but goddammit they were effective! The crowd at the show (good, but not quite a sell-out) definitely had a Monday night vibe before Nada Surf took the stage but sprung eagerly to life afterwards. This was a room full of sensitive white people in their twenties through early forties who were blissfully lost in the moment. And why not? Nada Surf makes music that makes emotionally over-stimulated white collar city life seem alternately dreamy and invigorating. They turn aging into an epic, meaningful journey and they do it in a way that manages to be sympathetic and uplifting without being reductive or pandering.

And tonight they were gloriously effective. The sweet morbidity of "See These Bones" was beefed up for powerful closer before a three-song party of an encore. They started with the traditional audience sway-along to "Inside Of Love" which, as always should feel dorky but instead just feels nice. This was followed with two pop-rock masterpieces from The Weight Is A Gift. "Always Love"'s scratchy, loud-soft dynamics proved even more effective amplified and they closed, as always, with a demented, extended version of "Blankest Year" with trumpets, multiple solos, two false-ends and, of course that great audience shout along "FUCK IT!".
As the feedback faded, the lights rose and people started making beelines for the exit, the spell having been lifted, depositing back at the very end of their Monday night. There wasn't the subcontinental human crush to get out the door and enjoyed ambling out, thanking my friend (a high school pal who'd introduced me to the band, as it turns out) before heading to the gift shop where Matthew Caws was keeping his in-show promise to perform "Blizzard Of '77" (above). It was all too perfect. I'd just seen a show that woulda blown away the Allstate Arena and yet here I was being serenaded by the lead singer ten feet away from me. Fully satisfied in a way that really redefines the word "satisfied" I left the store, ears ringing, felt the cool spring air pull me onto the sidewalk and started walking to the train to go home.

Setlist (With Downloads)
Clear Eyed Clouded Mind
Waiting for Something
Happy Kid
Whose Authority
What Is Your Secret?
Teenage Dreams
Killian's Red
Jules and Jim
Concrete Bed
80 Windows
When I Was Young
The Way You Wear Your Head
No Snow on the Mountain
Blonde on Blonde
Hi-Speed Soul
See These Bones

Inside of Love
Always Love
Blanket Year

Buy their music OR see them on tour (do it!)

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