Tuesday, 16 February 2010

588, 589 NADA SURF, The Mendoza Line, Tennason, Oxford Zodiac and Portsmouth Wedgewood Rooms, Saturday 3 and Sunday 4 May 2003

A couple of shows which elevated Nada Surf (who were admittedly primed for promotion anyway) to the ranks of the Very Special Indeed, occupied by such as The Gravel Pit and The Sheila Divine.

Firstly, Oxford. A quick trip got us there for doors, so we could sort the ticketless Ady out (Rachel and I had already booked!). So we had time to check out the merch and get a drink (soft for me, of course, these days) before first band on, Tennason. They impressed with some moody, atmospheric early numbers which built to a crescendo. Sound familiar? After half a number, Rach and I turned to each other and said, "The Sheila Divine!", and by the end of the opener we were out of the bar and down the front. Not a patch on TSD at this stage, admittedly (especially the singer, who was definitely no Aaron), but Tennason showed enough edge to mark them out as a young band of real potential. After a fine set, we bought the album, and noted the TSD comparison to their vocalist, who said he'd heard of them but not heard them. You should!

Back in the bar and stayed there for main support The Mendoza Line, who despite being from Brooklyn, were insipid and inconsequential Irish folk, with a female vocalist who had might as well not been there, for all she added to the band. I dunno, Ashton Lane and now this lot - da Surf do like their supports to be wallpaper-like!

Headed down the front at the appointed hour, shaking my booty to Matthew Sweet's excellent "Sick Of Myself" over the PA. Surf vocalist Matt Caws however hopped onstage halfway through this, with an apologetic, "sorry to interrupt a good song," and hooked immediately into a crystal clear "Blizzard Of 77". The sound tonight was pindrop-perfect, and Matt and the boys did it total justice with a consummate performance of pace, controlled power and occasionally beautiful clarity. The jagged, change of pace number "Treading Water" followed on, with Nada Surf thereafter locked into an effortless powerpop groove. Occasionally flippantly spiky and punk rock ("The Way You Wear Your Head"), occasionally hauntingly majestic ("Killian's Red" and the awesome "80 Windows"), they were never anything less than utterly superb tonight. Once again the "Love Will Tear Us Apart" segment during "Stalemate" recalled both Nada Surf's roots and aspirations, and the encore closer "Hyperspace" (by which time I was rocking out down the front with an expat Canadian called Dan) was a superb full stop at the end of a wonderful set.

And ditto for Portsmouth the following night! Only this time Rach and I were the ticketless ones, so we hit the venue well before doors, remembering that it really isn't that far down to Pompey after all. This time we ran into the talented Mr. Caws early in the evening, who, nicely, remembered us from our 2 previous meetings last Autumn. Once again my recent pancreatitis story was told to sympathetic ears, as we conversed with one of rock's (and life's) really genuine, warm and nice blokes.

So, to the rock. Tennason were once again impressive in their Sheila Divine-lite way, this time the vocalist leaving his shirt on, and the Mendoza Line were again a forgettable background noise from the safety of the bar! As for the headliners, da Surf turned it on again in an effortlessly impressive way, to a much more enthusiastic and receptive audience than last night's somewhat blasé Oxford crowd. Having been told by us just how good they were last night, Matt and the boys turned round and did it again! Another clear-as-a-bell sounding set of their intelligent mix of powerpop, atmospheric rock and 90's strumalong college rock, with the New Order groove of "High Speed Soul" and the breathtaking glacial beauty of "80 Windows" (rapidly becoming one of my all time favourite songs) outstanding from this set. An unexpected dash through "Popular", and another excellent "Hyperspace", rounded off things to a "T", confirming Nada Surf's deserved place amongst the elite. Very brief congrats with the deluged-by-fans Matt afterwards, before belatedly hitting the road. Home by 1 - but back at Portsmouth on Wednesday...

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