Live Review: Nada Surf w/ Prism Tats at The Neptune 5/18/16

all photos by Brittany Feenstra

Next month we celebrate the 20th birthday of High/Low, the timeless full-length debut from New York indie rock stalwarts Nada Surf. The band celebrated the milestone in great fashion, reissuing the record on beautiful orange vinyl through Vinyl Me Please and giving it a fantastic packaging makeover. But High/Low’s 20th year was much sweeter for an entirely different reason, as Nada Surf also gave us their seventh studio album (eighth, if you include the covers album If I Had A Hi-Fi), You Know Who You Are, a record that answers the hyperbolic tendencies of their debut with priceless perspective on identity and hopefulness in times of change. Nada Surf’s wisdom and musical excellence both only seem to ripen with time, and here in their third decade, they are writing the best material of their career. This is the first record the band has recorded with additional guitarist Doug Gillard, who has brought the band’s live presence to excellent new levels. Tonight’s show at the Neptune was a second to none Nada Surf performance, and for a city that loves them so immensely, this was a real treat to experience. Together with rising indie rock act Prism Tats, tonight was a joy for fans of all eras.

It’s really easy to fall in love with Prism Tats. If you don’t believe me, just ask anyone in attendance at Wednesday night’s show. The LA band are supporting Nada Surf on the whole west coast leg of their tour, and with the band’s debut LP out on ANTI- just this past April, it’s great timing and great exposure for a young band with a ton of energy and a lot to give. Garett van der Spek seems to pull from every direction assembling his upbeat indie rock tunes. Black Keys-style guitar solos are substituted with fuzzed out vocal runs, every tune packs a off-kilter punch like a Spoon song, and every melody feels like a classic you’ve been singing since Is This It dropped. But nostalgia or tribute never overwhelms van der Spek’s sound – rather, Prism Tats seem to hold their own in a crowded pool with really well put together songs and an addictive live presence. Dance pits broke out as early as the second song in, and they didn’t stop until the band bid goodbye. It’s a long way up from here, but with their debut album and this tour in support of Nada Surf, it seems we might have a new star to look out for in the coming years.

Prism Tats:

Matt Caws took a break halfway through Nada Surf‘s set to tell a short story about taking a run earlier in the day before the band had to set up for a sound check. “It’s like you are dancing with your will”, he laughed, explaining the internal battle of knowing something will benefit you but not wanting to necessarily go through the actions of doing it. Matt’s analogy works for a lot of things. It works for our dedication to our hobbies and our jobs, as well as our dedication to each other. We must dance with our will to be compassionate and to give to others. Truly, the giving never stops with Nada Surf. Twenty years on from High/Low, they continue to give us timeless, highly relatable music about dancing your way through life. Through high and low, close or far proximity, lucky or unlucky, we learn to know ourselves within the mystery of the cosmos as we dance with our will to be. Nada Surf reach to the stars time and time again and manage to capture this feeling from different standpoints and record it to tape. It’s this that makes them one of the great rock bands of our time.

With all that, it’s so, so pleasant to be able to see Nada Surf on a night like tonight and hear all of these songs played right before your eyes. On one fairly obvious hand, this is because the songs sound fantastic live. Doug Gillard continues to give the new and old catalogs an alt-country spin, pushing Nada Surf further into timeless American rock and roll terrain. Meanwhile, Caws’ voice only ripens with age, soaring about the heavy rock foundation like a bird with a beckoning call. The lightness helps carry his message through to the listener every time. Ira Elliot continues to shine as one of the best drummers in the game, even amidst his somewhat out-of-place goofy antics on stage. Long-time bassist Daniel Lorca sat this tour out, staying in Paris, but his chiseled bass-lines remain a steadfast metronome throughout every tune. On another note, the live setting is incredible because it allows the catharsis to flow in between every listener, echoing between them and bouncing back to the band. Hearing songs like “Cold To See Clear” and “Jules and Jim” next to classics like “80 Windows” and “Happy Kid“, you couldn’t help but smile watching the wave of understanding crash over fans of all generations. The band’s extensive and well-balanced setlist allowed pretty much everyone to have their Nada Surf moment of bliss.

With the 20 year anniversary of High/Low just around the corner, the band took a surprising turn with their encore, playing Proximity Effect cut “Hyperspace” before launching into a ripping rendition of “Popular”, before closing out with The Weight is a Gift double shot of “Always Love” and “Blankest Year”. Seeing “Popular” here might surprise some fans, as it is so typically seen as a one-off hit, totally unrepresentative of the rest of the band’s stellar (albeit less 90s-surf rock sounding) discography. But much like the songs that surrounded it, “Popular” tells a melancholy and effective story about the benefits of knowing yourself. Seeing where the band has grown from this point, it only makes sense on this tour to provide a full range of vision for the point of understanding they’ve reached. Returning to the stage once more for a totally unplugged edge-of-the-stage performance, Matt picked up his acoustic. “I know I have got a negative edge”, he sings on Let Go classic “Blizzard of ’77”, “that’s why I sharpen all the others a lot”. Dancing with the will – it’s all perspective. Thanks Nada Surf for giving us that perspective time and time again, always with something we can bob our head to.

Nada Surf:

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