Nada Surf are one of those bands who occupy a distinct corner of americana in the broadest sense – at times they can sound like they’re nothing to do with the genre, their new album having hints of New Order and Built to Spill – there’s a real 90s indie/power-pop sound to their output which hasn’t really changed over the last 20 years. But then at other times they can sound like Teenage Fanclub or Big Star, one of the jangliest around, and the connection seems obvious.
Their date at Manchester’s Academy venue felt like it wasn’t going to happen right up until the last minute and indeed turned out to be the final outing of a tour cut prematurely short (sorry Glaswegians) but for those who ventured out it was as good a band as any to see before hunkering down for the months ahead. Kicking off proceedings with the lead track from their latest album ‘Never Not Together’, it sounded to me like lead singer Matt Caws’ guitar wasn’t plugged in for the first 5 minutes – ‘So Much Love’ is a belter of a song and when those guitars come crashing in for the second chorus on the record itself, it’s an electrifying moment. Here, it felt a bit thin and weedy, and despite the strong melody struggled to carry itself with any energy. Thankfully, it was the only misstep of the night – ‘Hi-Speed Soul’ followed on, taken from the band’s best-known album ‘Let Go’ from 2002, a track which played live was suitably crunchy, and the sound just got better from that point onwards, with versions of classics such as ‘Looking Through’ and ‘See Those Bones’ which just nailed it on the evidence of the reception they got. At live shows, connection with the crowd is something that either happens or it doesn’t, and the band had no worries on that front tonight.
Bands never play a lot of tracks from their latest album unless they’re trolling the audience (I have sat through a Marillion gig – don’t judge me – which seemed to have more people in the toilets than the venue itself), and so we got just the highlights tonight including an outstanding version of ‘Looking For You’ which easily carried the joy of the recorded version. But honestly, Nada Surf should be individually prosecuted for not playing ‘Come Get Me’ not only tonight but on any night of their touring this year so far, easily the best song they have recorded in years, if not ever. Maybe they’re worried it’s just so good it’ll make everything else sound crap in comparison.
Support act John Vanderslice joined them for a version of new song ‘Just Wait’ towards the end of the set and Christ that guy can play, a perfect accompaniment to their sound. The evening ended, as is their wont these days, with an extended version of ‘Blankest Year’ which is one of the greatest euphoria-inducing songs of all time, and one which you’d imagine would give you a sleepless night if you saw them on a Tuesday. It almost felt sacrilegious encouraging people to celebrate in our current environment but maybe it’s all about pulling together in troubled times. As the song says, fuck it. We’ll get through this, Nada Surf will be back and will still be partying.
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