Recap: Nada Surf at Theatre Of Living Arts (4/9/12) - WXPN | Vinyl At Heart

Photo by Naomi Shavin

Who plays a full set without even mentioning their number-one mega-hit? Plenty of bands; in particular, bands trying to scrap a reputation as a one-hit-wonder. So, who plays a 22-song set and skips several of their most beloved tracks, including their one and only mega-hit (which was requested repeatedly throughout night)? Nada Surf. As an audience member, you have to wonder at a certain point what exactly you’re paying for at a live show, if not to hear your favorite songs live. In the case of Nada Surf’s show last night, it all depended on what era of Nada Surf you were a fan of. If you came to TLA on a Monday night in the hopes of hearing “Popular,” or “Electrocution,” or “Fruit Fly” (or at least “La Pour Ca”), you likely left disappointed.

Longtime fans were easy to spot. They were mostly older males sporting beards and glasses, some of which brought their wives and young kids in tow. (That probably explains why, at the band’s merch table, you could find black onesies with “Nada Surf” written on them in cute silver lettering.) They are the fans from 1995, the pre-“Popular” era—before Nada Surf had released a full-length album or been featured on The O.C. They knew every word to every song and seemed completely content with the set list (though hearing “The Fox” probably would have been nice). Their numbers also included one particularly devoted fan: a guy who claimed to have attended Nada Surf’s first show (or possibly first show in Philly; it was unclear). These audience members were there because they love Nada Surf’s earnest, messy, platitude-packed rock albums. They know that when Nada Surf is on—such as with “Inside Of Love” (off 2003’s Let Go) or “Jules and Jim” (off this year’s The Stars Are Indifferent To Astronomy)—the newer material holds its own against the band’s older, more well-known fare.

The most visibly disappointed fans of the evening were listeners who came to know Nada Surf first through “Popular,” enthusiastically explored the band’s secondary hits, and had a vague familiarity with the band’s complete discography, but hadn’t really given the new album much of a chance. These fans impatiently toe-tapped through the slower moments (like an extended rendition of “Paper Boats” 15 songs into the set). They seemed relieved when they recognized  a song (such as “See These Bones”); they got beers or used the bathroom during the hard-rock moments that Nada Surf busted out from their new album. (These moments, by the way, completely validated the band’s decision to pull in guitarist Doug Gillard from Guided By Voices.) These fans also seemed confused when Martin Wenk (who was also added for the tour and has recorded with virtually everyone from Wilco to Arcade Fire), played theremin during “Hi-Speed Soul.” They were the ones shouting for “Popular” too early and begging for a second encore too late.

“Pleasantly surprised” could describe the third demographic of the evening. A small population of Nada Surf fans seemed too young to have listened to them from day one, but weren’t terribly broken up over their “Electrocution”-less night. These fans probably knew “Inside Of Love” before “Popular,” or at least explored Nada Surf album by album—like their cooler, older cousins advised them to. These fans packed the front of the stage, never stopped moving, and were happy when the show ended with “Inside Of Love”, “Always Love”, and “Blankest Year.” Those three songs are a solid representation of Nada Surf’s tendency to swing between taking themselves too seriously and saying “Oh, F*** it/ I’m going to have a party” (to borrow a line from “Blankest Year”).

After the show, Matt Caws, the frontman of the group, explained that the band “tries to play a mix of what we like and what will make them happy.” He grinned at the audience members waiting to meet him. No one said the “p” word, though it seemed apparent that skipping their mega-hit was an unpopular decision. (Nearly every fan asked how the set list had been selected.) Some of the highest energy moments of the evening happened during new tracks such as “Clear Eye Clouded Mind”, “Teenage Dreams,” and “When I Was Young”, all which have crept up charts to become some of Nada Surf’s most popular tracks since The Stars‘ January release. Whether Nada Surf delivers live or disappoints, The Stars Are Indifferent to Astronomy is the band in its finest form. It’s packed with well-crafted, impressive songs and proves that the band is most definitely not a one-hit wonder —Naomi Shavin

Set List:

Clear Eye Clouded Mind
Waiting for Something
Happy Kid
Whose Authority
What Is Your Secret
Teenage Dreams
Killian’s Red
Jules and Jim
Concrete Bed
80 Windows
When I Was Young
The Way You Wear Your Head
Paper Boats
No Snow On The Mountain
Blonde on Blonde
Hi-speed Soul
See These Bones

Inside of Love
Always Love
Blankest Year

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