Friday, December 5, 2008

Nada Surf @ The Trocadero 12/4/08

"I'm just a happy kid /Stuck with the heart of an old punk." - "Happy Kid"

The biography of New York-based Nada Surf reads like a warning for all aspiring singer/songwriters. And the band issues a warning to other bands on their latest album in the song "See These Bones." The band formed in the early 90's when longtime school friends, singer/guitarist Matthew Caws and bassist Daniel Lorca, reunited. After trying their hand at a few different projects, they settled on Nada Surf. After some European-only EP's, one of their demos found its way into the hands of Ric Ocasek and shortly after the band was signed to Elektra.

In 1996 they released High/Low with Ocasek producing. The band was viewed as another version of Weezer, which at that time was a good thing. The single "Popular" became a surprise radio hit and things were going well. When they delivered their follow-up, The Proximity Effect, in 1998 the label refused to release it because they felt it didn't have anything on it that would be a potential hit. This was during the consolidation of the major labels during the late 90's, where this fate befell so many other promising acts (e.g., The Toadies, Huffamoose, The Caulfields, Aimee Mann, etc.) who had showed potential but lost momentum and saw their fanbases dwindle and then move on to other acts during the lull. Many artists completed albums and then were told that their label had dropped them or was refusing to release the album because of a lack of commercial potential.

And then it took Nada Surf, like many of the others, a few years to buy back the rights to the album and/or to get out of the current deal and get signed by another label. In Nada Surf's case, the label released the album in Europe, but refused to release it in the U.S. And it would be almost 2 years later when Nada Surf got the rights back to the album and released it in the U.S. in 2000. But by then most music fans were wondering, "Who is Nada Surf? Oh yeah, they had that hit a few years ago? What was the name of that song?"

The Proximity Effect was certainly no Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, but it was a solid album and Nada Surf soldiered onward. They didn't tour much so they were basically on hiatus from about 1997 to 2002. They signed to Barsuk in 2002 and shortly after released their career best album Let Go. Now Nada Surf was showing their power pop influences - think more Lemonheads or Death Cab for Cutie, than Weezer. They have released a handful of covers in recent years that highlight what their influences are: The Beatles' "All You Need Is Love", The Pixies' "Where Is My Mind?," the Smiths' "There Is a Light That Never Goes Out", Joy Division's "Love Will Tear Us Apart", and OMD's "If You Leave" (one-hit wonder from Pretty in Pink). So the Nada Surf stew of influences is basically 60's pop/rock, 80's Brit/pop/shoegazer bands, and some 80's pre-Grunge punk.

They followed up Let Go with The Weight Is a Gift in 2005 and then Lucky in 2008. Both were a notch below Let Go, but still very good records.

I was kind of disappointed that the Troc was so empty. It was supposed to be an all-ages show, I thought. But the 2nd act, Delta Spirit, didn't end up finishing their set until after 10. They were worth seeing. They had lo-fi rootsy vibe going that reminded me of Wilco or Dr. Dog. The 5-piece band consisted of singer/guitar, guitar, bass, drums, and multi-instrumentalist (keyboards and additional percussion). I think maybe originally it wasn't an all-ages show and they changed it to all ages a few weeks ago to try to sell some more tickets to kids under 21. Inside it was set up as usual for all-ages shows with drinking only permitted in the balcony area. But the bands didn't change their schedule, so it seems something was amiss between the bands and the venue. You can't play an all-ages show with 3 bands when the doors don't open until 8, especially if the headliner is going to play for 90 minutes and the 2nd act is going to play for nearly an hour. At about 11:45pm a lot of people started leaving. I guess they had to catch trains home and figured the show would be over by 11:30.

Nada Surf finally hit the stage at around 10:35pm and finished up around 12:15am. It was a very economical set, consisting of 23 songs in the 100 or so minutes. Only 2 songs, "Treehouse" and "Telescope" (from their initial pre-1996 EP, Karmic) were from their 90's albums. The rest of the set was from their last 3 releases, including 10 from Let Go, 4 from The Weight Is a Gift, and 7 from Lucky.

They seemed to realize they were getting a late start and appeared to rush through the first 4 or 5 songs before settling down. They pretty much played everything I wanted to hear except "Are You Lightning?", "Imaginary Friends", and "Concrete Bed." I thought "Imaginary Friends" would be a good set closer. But I can't really find anything I would have replaced with these songs. There were a lot of calls for "Popular" from the crowd during the set, but they didn't oblige. I guess this is their version of the Lemonheads' "Mrs. Robinson" cover. I did read that they played a twangy acoustic version of "Popular" a few times earlier this year, sort of deconstructing and reclaiming it again.

The crowd was a wide mix between college kids and some people with gray hair. It was funny a few times Caws said they were going to play an "old song" and it ended up being something from 5 years ago, when I was expecting something from the 1990's. I guess it's a habit due to some people at the shows only knowing the latest release. Old 97's seems to do this frequently at shows too – announcing the title and album name of anything they play that is earlier than their 3rd album, acknowledging there are probably some newbies in the audience.

1. Hi-Speed Soul
2. Happy Kid
3. Treehouse
4. Whose Authority
5. Weightless
6. I Like What You Say
7. Killian’s Red
8. Fruit Fly
9. Inside of Love
10. Beautiful Beat
11. The Fox
12. Ice on the Wing
13. Telescope
14. See These Bones
15. Treading Water
16. Your Legs Grow
17. The Way You Wear Your Head

18. Blizzard of ‘77
19. Neither Heaven Nor Space
20. Do It Again
21. Blonde on Blonde
22. Always Love
23. Blankest Year

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