Monday, 5 October 2015

961 SURFER BLOOD, Eternal Summers, Bristol Thekla, Sunday 4th October 2015

A hectic October run of gigs starts with a Bristol double-header; The Rev tomorrow, but tonight the promise of some wide-eyed and optimistic surf/ powerpop in prospect, from sunkissed Floridians Surfer Blood. A band I’ve followed for some time, picking up their splendid powerpop-infused “Astro Coast” debut back in 2010, I’ve nonetheless somehow contrived to miss seeing them “live” up to now, but am glad to address that on their Autumn tour promoting current, 3rd, effort “1,000 Palms”. More of a return to the innocent surf-washed harmonies of their debut, after a darker, more difficult 2nd in “Pythons”, this should be a fun, melodic bop-along. Let’s see…
After an afternoon spent at an inflatable park with the kids I set off at 7, hopefully for some bouncing of my own! A quick drive down with footy talk radio for company (all over the sacking of Brendan Rodgers from Liverpool) saw me pitch up at a virtually deserted “Dirty Boat” at 10 to 8; the Thekla, sometimes an early gig at the weekend, was running later so I had a 40 minute wait for support Eternal Summers (bah!), who thankfully arrived promptly at 8.30 to a sparse crowd but swathes of dry ice. After an uncharacteristically dour opener, this female fronted trio fair galloped along at a whip-crack pace, with some very listenable post-C86 jangle effervescent pop. Not sure if the pace and buoyant mood of the material made up for the lack of memorable hooks and choruses, or submerged what good hooks there were; either way it was diverting but not particularly memorable, with easily their best number (“Leave It All Behind”?) saved for last. At 45 minutes, a little overlong, too…
This meant barely time for a quick loo dash before Surfer Blood took the stage for last-minute sound-checks, before re-emerging at 9.35 in front of a more ample but still probably only half-full Thekla. Nonetheless, they set to it capably, a short instrumental opener segueing into the tumbling bass and cascading vocal attack of “Grand Inquisitor”, the splendid opener to their new album. “It’s nice to be back on this boat after 5 years!” announced boyish vocalist John Paul Pitts, prior to the chunky mid-tempo Teenage Fanclub stomp of oldie “Floating Vibes”, “thanks for spending your Sunday night with us!”
This was in fact a lovely way to spend a Sunday night; Surfer Blood’s intelligently-crafted rock mixes sly strumalong verses leading to invariably big, memorable hooks, awash with melody and some very fine intertwining harmonic patterns from Pitts, fellow guitarist Michael McCleary (a dead-ringer for Mayor Carcetti from “The Wire”, IMHO….!) and bassist Kevin Williams. Right in my TFC/ Gigolo Aunts/ Redd Kross upbeat and buoyant powerpop wheelhouse, this stuff, so I lapped it up, bopping down the front throughout, with a small but enthusiastic Bristol crowd, the enthusiasm being mirrored by gregarious vocalist Pitts; “Bristol is one of our favourite UK towns; I’d love to retire here and live on a boat… in the next 3 years!” The sunwashed melody of “Island” was an early set highlight, before Pitts went walkabout in the front rows during the almost calypso verses of “Take It Easy”, before (having evidently spotted me down the front making an occasional brief note or two) then stopping the song altogether to ask me what I’d been writing! T’was only appropriate then, for me to hand my gig card to him (back onstage now) at the song’s conclusion, to the response of, “thanks Bristol… and thank you David Rose!”
A fine set built to an impressive conclusion, with a breathless “Feast/ Famine” being topped by a titanic, dramatic “Swim”, the high watermark in their canon of work, a huge strident chorus resonating around the old boat. Final number, “I Can’t Explain” almost came close to topping that, though, the slow burn of the bright early verses again leading to a brain-grabbing hook, which then built to a lengthy feedback and reverb-soaked lengthy finale. A 3 song encore ended with a final chunky post-grunge number recalling Chicago’s Number One Cup, which again finished with a cacophonous finale, to end a damn fine set.
Got my set-list signed by the band too, including affable vocalist John Paul Pitts, who promised to check out my blog. I hope you’re reading this, JPP, and I hope you approve of this write-up. I certainly enjoyed bopping along to the eminently harmonious Surfer Blood tonight, and I hope to be back for more!

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