Nada Surf (noun, verb):"It’s actually referring to something much more existential, it's just surfing on nothing. Being lost in your head or in your imagination but you know, whenever I listen to music I always find myself off somewhere. Somewhere in space. You know, in mental space and it's a reference to that.-Matthew Caws
What is there to say about a band like Nada Surf? Consisting today of, Matthew Caws, Ira Elliot, Doug Gillard, and Daniel Lorca, Nada Surf were a post-grunge infant riding the wave of that moment in time. Awash in the mid to late 90's alt/grunge/anti-rock, they existed. Unlike Alice in Chains, Soul Asylum or arguably the biggest blow up of the era Nirvana, Nada Surf just kept existing. Admittedly towards the end of my dalliance in high school this group was Popular.
Honestly until they made a highly anticipated splash on a Monday night in March at City Winery, the Nada Surf wave had all but cast out to open waters for me. I was caught up in the Lilith Fair, PC, folkie experience, and didn’t really take to notice Nada Surf. While they continued to make records, tour the world, develop quite the following and become even more popular in Europe, I was falling under the spell of Tricky and Massive Attack.
While they self-produced, took hiatuses, and reconnected, I remained inept. They have made quite the career for themselves; what have I done over the same time period? I don’t mean to get too cerebral here but that was really the takeaway from this show for me. These were artists who burst onto the scene with a racy video, washed out distortion, and pillaged the spoils of this time. They could have, like so many other bands before them, exploded, broken up, gotten back together, been cast in and out of rehab, and remained at the forefront of our insatiable tabloid culture. But they just chose to keep going.
Of course they stumbled and had their doubtful moments in the trajectory of their careers, but if the acoustic renderings at City Winery in SoHo were any indication, this is a band that hit the timing just right with their first single and then matured. Like fine wine or slowly braised beef, this group took their time and kept at their craft. The career of someone like Beck would draw apt comparisons in this protracted maturation. So now, all these years later Nada Surf were here and so was I.
This was an event at City Winery but it was also an event that was hosted by the radio station WFUV. So to begin the evening someone from WFUV and Caws came out onstage to have a conversation about this very maturation. Caws who now lives in Europe, waxed poetic about growing up in New York City and listening with his own small radio to catch the newest sounds of the day from local stations of the time. He also talked about how the band has grown and stretched out but still manages to return back together, come to a recording studio in Brooklyn every few years and make new music. This is the situation for modern bands today though. Like the band The Postal Service, Nada Surf don’t even all live on the same continent anymore but through the use of digital means they can still come together, share their work, and create amazing music.
Really though this night wasn’t about their recording process or the maturation of their sound, it was about the songs. The audience was jam packed into City Winery for the earlier of the two shows on a Monday night in March. With the interview out of the way they just got into the making of music.
“Cold to See Clear” was their first song they played. From an ad hoc survey of cheers, Caws seemed to glean that many in attendance this evening hadn’t gotten their newest record. The recently released and very good “You Know Who You Are” was available for sale at the merchandise table; undoubtedly this was going to be a hot seller this evening.
The second song, “Whose Authority” from 2008’s “Lucky” was a lot more familiar. There was a noticeably more upbeat, cheering, grooving vibe happening when they tore into classics.
Keeping up with some of their newer stuff, the third song that they played as “Believe You’re Mine.” This was around the moment I noticed something interesting. This was an “acoustic” show and the sound inside City Winery is totally geared towards that. The rhythm and lead guitars were both acoustics. Even the drummer was playing hand drums on some kind of standing snare with the wrist tambourine included for many songs. But the bass player still had an electric bass. Granted the lead and rhythm acoustic guitars were “plugged in” and everyone could be “heard.” Still, for an acoustic show, it seemed rather bass heavy.
In keeping with the new and old and new pattern, Caws said that they would reach back in the annals again, playing two goodies from “The Weight is a Gift,” “What Is Your Secret” and “Concrete Bed.”
The show continued on for a bit but rather than stridently take notes for the remainder of the evening, I put my phone away and just enjoyed the performance. City Winery usually allows a lot more leeway in their starting and ending times but because the show I was at was the first of two for the evening, the end did come about too quickly. Still for what it’s worth this rediscovery of a classic band I never really appreciated was well worth the time. City Winery as always remains an amazing venue and Nada Surf’s an exciting group. This band is a group who still know how to rock but also can appreciate the silent spaces between the slides of their reverberating instruments.