Thursday, 9 February 2012

840 NADA SURF, Waters, London Camden Koko, Wednesday 8 February 2012

I’ve said it before and this year it bears repeating, particularly with my new car making me paranoid to park anywhere that isn’t totally locked down; it takes a VERY special band to drag me up to London, especially on a school night. However Nada Surf fall squarely into that category; in fact they probably stack up right at the top right now! Nearly 4 years since my last “live” Surf experience, they’re back with what might be their best album yet, in the wonderful and magical “The Stars Are Indifferent To Astronomy”. Bucking their recent headlong descent towards slow-burn and introspective hush, evidenced in their last 2 albums, this one actually features some startling rock guitar! Galloping fast songs! Power and pace, even! However this augments rather than detracts from their stark, touching and lovelorn songcraft, and deliciously warm and confessional delivery, producing what is easily an Album Of The Year favourite for 2012, and honestly a real masterpiece for the ages. In fact, I spent a lunchtime last week listening to it and a colleague, returning from lunch, took a look at me and asked me if I’d been crying. This is evidently the profound emotional effect that this album has on me. I’m utterly lost in this album, and right now this band says everything to me about my life.

However, this being the first time I’ve been to KOKO, I was unsure about local street parking; Camden Car Parks all seem to shut early; and other nearby NCPs charge £8 an hour! Fuck that! So after an early departure and a quick run, I parked the new car nervously in my usual spot in an eerily quiet Bush, having an easy but freezy tube trip over to Mornington Crescent, and hitting the venue at 7.30. A wonderfully ornate red-lit venue with lots of gold leaf carvings and plenty of viewing balconies, like a mini Shepherd’s Bush Empire, only far grander. I explored the various levels before support Waters sneaked on at 7.50. A young San Franciscan 4-piece, they played some diverting chunky and resonant indie power pop to evidently their biggest ever audience, with one racy number “Back To You” and the blond vocalist’s evident effort and enthusiasm a feature. The final number, an anthemic “Forever”, saw him step away from the mic and give an “unplugged” performance, after coaching the audience to sing the hook! Shades of The Gaslight Anthem from this young band, in a good opening set.

Stayed down in the front rows, stage right, as the lights dimmed at 8.50 and Da Surf sauntered casually onstage. A 5-piece Surf line-up, this, with the usual trio of mainman Matt Caws, the sumptuously dreadlocked Daniel Lorca and drummer Ira Elliot augmented, “live” as on the new record, by Guided By Voices’ guitarist Doug Gillard and Calexico’s talented multi-instrumentalist Martin Wenk, to give the punch this robust new material deserves and needs. And this was evident from the outset, with the new CD’s devastating one-two opening combo “Clear Eye Clouded Mind” and “Waiting For Something” opening the set. That was it, I was bouncing around like a loon from note one, and had navigated my way through to front centre, by the time the heady rush of third number “Happy Kid” assailed the ears of this old punk.

This was a wonderfully paced, joyful set of high-end punchy powerpop and warm, touching honest rock from Da Surf, with light and shade aplenty to delight and beguile. “Killians Red”, joyfully dark and morose, was followed in short order by silky and harmonic newie “Jules And Jim”, which featured a smooth, wide-eyed delivery from Matt’s familiar vocal tones and some rocking xylophone from Wenk, prompting some wag down the front (OK, it was me…) to shout out, “well, that was bloody lovely!”, and eliciting a, “why thank you, Sir!” response from Mr. Caws. A ferocious “The Way You Wear Your Head” was followed by the plangent magnificence that is always “80 Windows”, Wenk also embellishing this all-time classic with some understated trumpet. Da Surf were really cooking with gas in this set mid-section!

The stomping “High Speed Soul” was messy and discordant, but actually seemed all the more fun for this rough-housing, before a mesmerising “See These Bones”, building to a gloriously heartfelt cacophony, like warm waves crashing over myself and the audience, rounded off a quite perfect set. A naked “Blonde On Blonde” preceded Matt, as ever a personable and gregarious presence throughout, telling us a story of his father’s flight from a cult and his subsequent struggle to stay in touch with relatives, which enabled Matt to introduce some of them onstage. “Don’t give up on what you believe in,” was Matt’s lesson, one well learned.

The bouncy final number “Looking Through” brought a swift and magical 1½ hour set to a close, and as the band left the stage I caught Daniel’s attention and he handed me Matt’s set-list and took one of my gig blog cards. Fair swap! Caught my breath after a majestic performance from da Surf, chatting with some similarly supremely entertained fellow punters, before waiting at Mornington Crescent for the tube train that seemingly never came, nevertheless getting back to the car at 11.30 and home for 1. A late late one these days, then, but completely justified by a heart-felt, melancholy, yet uplifting and triumphant performance from a truly great band completely at the height of their powers.

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