(Above: Nada Surf's Matthew Caws after rockin' Neumo's. Photo by Jon Toccaetaev)
Maddest of mad props to Nada Surf.
On a chilly Wednesday night in Seattle's Capitol Hill neighborhood, lead singer/guitarist Matthew Caws, bassist Daniel Lorca, and drummer Ira Elliot accomplished the seemingly impossible: they incited a sold-out crowd of fey baby emogeeks and thirtysomething scenesters to do something beside nod approvingly. From the opening riffs of "Blizzard of ‘77" (off the band's brutally poppy and awesomely ethereal 2003 release, Let Go
), the throng of several hundred risked its Jane Fonda-in-Klute
bangs and its cred
by dancing with abandon, singing along and making out. It was that kind of night.
The evening got off to a rollicking start with a smart, hook-laden set from Nada Surf's Brooklyn compatriots, Say Hi to Your Mom. Singer/songwriter Eric Elbogen is a wry, natural frontman and led his band through most of the tracks from its current release, Ferocious Mopes and a smattering from 2003’s Numbers & Mumbles. Caws and Elliot joined on Say Hi's finale, “Laundry,” from its debut Discosadness and whet the crowd's appetite for Nada Surf’s imminent onstage arrival.
It's worth noting at this juncture that, on Neumo's small stage in front of a giant swirling mural, Nada Surf temporarily shattered the space/time continuum. Just as a 24-hour flu seems to last an eternity, the band's 85-minute set rushed by in seconds. Caws’ blue eyes glimmered beneath his sandy-colored bangs, Lorca's blonde dreads kept percussive time, and Elliot's face was as open and expressive as a teenager: the band members were clearly enjoying themselves and the energy was infectious.
None of which would matter, of course, if they didn't bring the talent. By the second song, “Concrete Bed”—off their current release, the raucous jangle-bomb, The Weight is a Gift— it was clear that Nada Surf was in fine form. Caws' voice has been described as the prettiest in indie rock and it’s true. On lines like, “It's just another wish you wished / in a very long list,” his vocals were stirring. If angels have sex, this is what they sound like. Bonus, also, for singing the word, “ossify” ("Your habits ossify / you don't realize you're fried") without sounding like a dork. Lorca's bass, Elliot's drumming and Caws' guitar wove together like a magical, musical loom: it's hard to believe a three-piece created so much hooky goodness.
The band kept the in-between-song banter lively, too. Before a rousing version of “Always Love,” Lorca asks the teeming balcony, “How's it going in the balcony, you alcohol-drinking, motherf—ers? Have one on us!” Caws sang the Tab jingle after winding up “Happy Kid” and later regaled the crowd with what can only be described as the “Meow Meow Song” ("Meow / meow / I am just a kitten / I barely fit my mittens.”)
The Long Winters’ John Roderick and Harvey Danger’s Sean Nelson, no strangers to pretty vocals, lent their pipes to “What Is Your Secret” and “Your Legs Grow” (Roderick) and “In The Mirror” and “Blonde On Blonde” (Nelson). Nada Surf played two full encores for a crowd that didn’t want to leave and topped the show off with a medley that included a surprise version of Joy Division's "Love Will Tear Us Apart.”