The second of a 2 gig double header and a Monday night up the Smoke as well... however, despite tiring limbs and ageing bones (poor old me!), there was no way I was going to miss this one. A 4-year hiatus since Nada Surf’s wonderful “The Stars Are Indifferent To Astronomy” album thankfully came to an end recently with another sparkling, splendid album in “You Know Who You Are”, ‘da Surf again melding their own blend of thrilling, joyful and upbeat powerpop, smooth and warmly lush melody, and heartfelt introspective yet self-empowering lyricism, to produce another worthy addition to a supreme quality canon of work that stands comparison with any other band or artiste you’d care to mention. Ever. Yup, ever. There, I said it... The Electric Ballroom, an enduring Camden venue I’d oddly only been to twice before (!), was however the closest their subsequent short UK tour passed by the ‘don, so a Monday night out in the big city was in prospect for this country boy!
No messing about for this one journey-wise either; I set off straight from work, hitting the M4 then breaking my journey at Heston so I could park up at the Bush as usual just after 6.30. Tubed it over to the Electric Ballroom, hitting the venue just before 7.30 and finding it actually pretty deserted early doors! Down the front therefore for openers Amber Arcades, a 5-piece from Amsterdam (“kind of”, according to the blonde vocalist) consisting of 3 guys and 2 girls. They joined us at 8, easing into a set which was smooth, melodic and lush, recalling the likes of Stereolab, Luna and (what I know of) Belle And Sebastian. A couple of their bouncier, rockier numbers also recalled the excellent Alvvays, and their set closer was a metronomic groove that built to an impressive lengthy crescendo. Not entirely original, but seen a whole lot worse support bands...
By now I’d finagled my way onto the barrier down the front, pitching up next to Julian, an affable chap who apparently remembered meeting me at Nada Surf's Koko gig 4 years ago (“you’re the guy who does a gig blog, right?”). So a nice chat about gigging experiences whiled away the time before Nada Surf took the stage, dead on 9 to a rapturous welcome from the by-now very amply full venue. Straight into “Cold To See Clear”, the new album opener, which eased in with a smooth refrain, then broke out into a strident bouncy stomp with a deliciously soaring chorus and an impassioned vocal performance from singer Matthew Caws. Brilliant stuff for openers, and, bad knees be damned, I bounced along straight from the off, already assured that this was going to be a special one.
Nada Surf were quite simply brilliant tonight, totally “on it” from the outset, also bucking the trend of their recent performances wherein they’d largely eschewed the rocker aspects of their canon. Nope, this was full on “rock” from note one, the band rediscovering the visceral delights of simply playing loud and hard. Every one a winner, even the sprinkling of already-familiar new numbers; I could honestly wax lyrical about the delights of each and every song in this set, but I’d get some serious writer’s cramp!
“We first played in the UK 20 years ago across the road [in the Camden Underworld],” announced Matt before a high octane “Happy Kid”; “it’s taken us 20 years to cross the road!” “Happy Kid” was propelled by a brilliantly Caldes-like octopus-limbed performance by drummer Ira Elliott, prompting some wag down the front (OK, it was me...!) to shout, “Ira, great job there!” which elicited the response of, “I’m just warming up...!” The subsequent “Do It Again” was also astonishing, the huge final crescendo hook of “maybe this weight was a gift” both confessional and joyful at the same time. “80 Windows”, plangent and lushly moody as ever, featured a haunting and elongated middle 8 guitar riff from recent Surf joinee Doug Gillard; “Jules And Jim” diffused the mood with some touching 60’s melody and yearning vocals, and following the Replacements-style bluesy stomp of newie “Animal”, Gillard was to the fore again during the rampant “The Way You Wear Your Head”, tearing off some hard-rocking power chords from a low-slung stance, prompting SWDTF (OK, me again...!) to shout out, “Joey Ramone on guitar!” at its’ conclusion!
Prior to this, Matt (clearly chanelling Mr. Chatterbox tonight) had lamented not being able to visit London more often from his current base of Cambridge, blaming the not-so-late late train, then brainstormed an idea to build a tower with a zipline to all corners and charge a pound for use! The lush harmonies of “Friend Hospital” was bookended with a discussion on the premise behind the new album; about getting out, meeting friends, and generally living life to the full. Admirable sentiments as ever. Set finale “See These Bones” was preceded by a story of Matt’s visit to an ossuary in Rome, which turned out to be an uplifting experience, prompting him to “think about today”. “See These Bones” was equally uplifting, the absorbing repeated riff building to a crescendo overlaid by another transcendent vocal performance from Matt, closing out an utterly stunning set.
More was to come; a 4-song encore opened with a kinetic, thrilling “Hyperspace” and ended with the profane chant-along party-starter of “Blankest Year”, closing out the onstage performance. However, a few minutes later, Matt, fat acoustic in hand, led the band out to the merch stand at the back of the hall, then played a singalong “Blizzard Of 77” and “I Like What You Say” in the round to the remaining punters. So we then got some face time with the band, for pix, chats and getting my set-list signed. A swamped Matt remembered me from old, which is always a nice surprise, and asked me to pass his guitar over to the merch crew (!); Ira complimented my “Big Dipper” t-shirt, prompting a quick chat about Boston rock (doesn’t take much, really...!), bassist Daniel Lorca actually signed my list this time (!), and Doug did a disappearing act!
I finally and reluctantly made my exit and got back to the car at midnight, home for a bleary eyed 1.15 a.m. Good thing I had the next morning off... It’s only April, and I’ve got some pretty sparkling 2016 gigs already lined up (including “Month of Legends” in May – more on that later...!), but I won’t be surprised if tonight ends up being my Gig Of The Year. A completely and utterly flawless and faultless Nada Surf show!