Nada Surf @ The Tractor Tavern, 02.02.12
In case you were wondering, those nasty, swirling rumors are totally true; every pop song in the history of the universe has already been written. There are only so many strings and frets on a guitar, and after thousands of years of noodling, we've finally hit that point where no one can put two things together that haven't ever been heard together somewhere before. That said, there are bands that do it in a completely average way and then there are bands like Nada Surf who serve as textbook examples of the simple beauty and overpowering majesty of well-written/arranged three chord pop songs.
After years of touring as a solid-enough trio, the band has finally adopted a second guitarist (Cleveland's finest, Doug Gillard, formerly of Cobra Verde and Guided By Voices, amongst others). Over the course of the almost 90 minute show, Gillard's presence helped the band propel above singer Matthew Caws' capable strumming and into the more bombastic territory that Nada Surf songs aspire toward on album.
Gillard showed a lot of restraint on some of the band's older material (built for touring as a trio), playing fairly restrained during the more mellow moments. When given a little bit of room to shine, Gillard unleashed nimble licks that added a brilliant new layer of texture to the band's already well-polished gems. Drummer Ira Elliott has always played as if Tractor-sized crowds were arena-sized throngs, but having Gillard's stellar chops to compliment his over-the-top fills really pushes the band into that stratospheric space. Closing your eyes at the right moments and applying an auto-rasp filter to Caws' snow-pure voice, the band came across as a much more polite/sober heir apparent to the Replacements churning, effortless pop gems.
Twenty years into their career, Nada Surf's commitment to rock-solid consistency is both its blessing and a curse. The band's most recent material (the just released The Stars Are Indifferent To Astronomy) sounds like a perfectly good Nada Surf record, but rarely strays from the band's tried and true formula. Frontman Caws has always done a good job mixing plain, almost-cliche speak with strange pop culture references; on Astronomy, the graying Caws is taking on his middle life with a lot of hazy nostalgia, sometimes with bone-chilling clarity (the arena-strum melancholia of "When I Was Young", which carried significantly more gravity in a live setting) and sometimes with clunky, disconnected metaphors (the cringe-inducing "subway break dancer" line of "Teenage Dreams", the rambling "The Future") that stretch to be everyday, observational poetry and end up feeling more like refrigerator magnet non-sequiturs. The band's melodies (on record and live) have a lot more chime and churn in them, but don't shift tempos enough to really feel any movement other than a general forward progression. That said, the band's effervescent personality (and the occasional interjecting of one of the band's scientifically-proven perfect back catalog) helps add more life/layers/levity to the newer material, selling it a lot more than the record does for itself.
The Crowd: A sold out group of late 30's/early 40's folks ("At this rate, we won't be home until 1!") who started trickling out before the encore. When do babysitters get time and a half again? Also, Ben Gibbard.
Random Notebook Dump #1: This was the third show the band had played over the course of the day; starting out with an afternoon KEXP performance at the Triple Door and Caws doing an acoustic set at the Neptune for the Sasquatch lineup announcement party hours prior. Aside from Caws mentioning that he'd never do that again, the band showed no signs of fatigue from a busy day touring Seattle's finest venues.
Random Notebook Dump #2: Nada Surf bassist Daniel Lorca is actually made entirely out of dreadlocks and old menthol cigarette butts.
Random Notebook Dump #2: Wait, people are seriously wearing fanny packs again? Who made this a thing?
Nada Surf Setlist:
- Clear Eye Clouded Mind
- Waiting For Something
- Happy Kid
- Whose Authority
- Teenage Dreams
- Killian's Red
- What Is Your Secret?
- Jules and Jim
- Enjoy The Silence (Depeche Mode cover)
- The Future
- When I Was Young
- Hi-Speed Soul
- The Moon Is Calling
- See These Bones
- Blonde On Blonde
- The Way You Wear Your Head
- Always Love
- Looking Through