The best gig thus far of a nascent 2006 started with us, still tired from a weekend in Worthing visiting friends, grumbling about being dragged up to London on a school night, and ended with us eulogising over an utterly perfect show from one of the best and most important bands on the planet right now. So here's the story...
Rachel and I grumbled and groused our way up to London in the horrible rain, getting into Shepherds Bush and parking up at 10 to 8, waiting in the car until 8 when it was legal to park, which also meant we walked into the venue just as Inara George finished her last number. Got drinks in and wandered down to a spot stage right as the place filled up. Ran into Idlewild guitarist Rod, who'd apparently been backing Inara; he remembered us from California - after a little prompting - and we had a brief chat.
Heard good reports about main support The Feeling, so we were buoyed by their impressive start, a powerpop number laden with 3-part harmony and a great chorus. Unfortunately it went downhill from there, as the remainder of their set took on a schizophrenic quality, veering from quirky Zutons-lite to Aerosmithy power ballads, folk-tinged rock like The Fat Lady Sings and a fine closer which recalled the rock stomp of Waltham! Their best numbers bookended their set, but this was definitely a case of mixed Feelings...!
It got busier in our little area as Nada Surf's stage set-up, featuring huge cymbals as reflecting mirrors, was adjusted before they wandered on, halfway through Bowie's "Diamond Dogs" backing track, at 9.15. No pissing about this time, no early flat feeling - this time da Surf were straight on it with the stomping bass of "High Speed Soul". The early numbers set the tone - veering between the last 2 albums, it was perfectly paced, understated when called for, strident and rocking when allowed, and sounding clear as a bell.
Again, an early "80 Windows" was a brilliant highlight, but "Inside Of Love", featuring audience participation swaying conducted by vocalist Matt Caws, topped that for heartfelt emotion. Matt, evidently buoyed by headlining here for their biggest UK date ("the last time we were here the Vines gave us 22 minutes!") was affable, chatting throughout as if to old friends. This wonderfully melodic and emotive set wore its' influences on its' sleeve for all to see (a beautifully understated cover of the Smiths "There Is A Light That Never Goes Out"; snatches of the Bunnymen's "Ocean Rain" during a stark "Paper Boats", partially duetted with Inara George, and the "Stalemate" middle 8 segue into Joy Division's "Love Will Tear Us Apart") but was always uniquely Nada Surf, perfect and pure.
"This is for all of you who drove tonight," thanked Matt as he introduced "Always Love" and we were enthralled. A quicker 1 3/4 hours (including generous encore) I've rarely spent at a gig. The final 2 numbers - a quirky one about a kitten (!) and the thrilling "Hyperspace" brought a brilliant set (which we'd enjoyed from 3 rows from the front of the stage, after getting twitchy feet and pushing forward to dance) to a close. Home for 12.30 - late but elated. As I mentioned - best of 2006 so far!