Nada Surf - Live in Denver (Cover Artwork)
Staff Review

Nada Surf

Live in Denver (2016)

live show

At my college, we had two radio stations: the really professional one that broadcast city wide, and the little dingy one that only broadcasted to the campus. Since I was on the smaller one, the rules were much looser. Officially, if the DJ after us failed to show up for their shift, we were supposed to put a mix CD on and hit repeat. I usually ignored this rule, instead opting to put on Nada Surf’s Let Go on repeat, as I felt that the campus really needed to hear it. The album’s dreamy indie pop sound, and that beautiful album cover, just made me fall in love. Like I said in my recent review of their latest album (which I think is called You Know That Thing You Do or something like that) Nada Surf has had a streak of near perfect albums since Let Go, basically applying the same formula five times over. On top of that, I had seen them two times before this show, and they had always provided a beautiful performance of their tender melodies every time I’d seen them. So, going into this concert, I had high expectations. Unfortunately, they weren’t met.

The first thing I noticed when the band took the stage was the noticeable absence of the familiar dreadlocks of bassist Daniel Lorca. Nada Surf really originated as a collaboration between Lorca and frontman Matthew Caws. And in a band that at times can be very serious, Lorca has a tendency to add a dose of fun to the live performances. During one show, I saw Lorca pull out a cigarette, put it in his mouth, and light it mid-song without missing a note on his bass. I saw it first hand, and even I couldn’t explain to you how he did that. While I in no way endorse cigarette smoking, I highly endorse how amazing that little stunt was. In Lorca’s place this night was a tall, muscular man with much shorter hair. I immediately took to my iPhone to see if Lorca had left the band. What is Nada Surf without Daniel Lorca? When Caws still referred to his new bassist as “our friend Daniel,” I had a moment of wondering if Lorca had just cut his dreadlocks off, and started to curse myself for how face-blind I am. Thankfully, Caws cleared things up on the next song. He insisted that “everything is fine in Nada Surf land” and that Lorca had not left the band, but that he has made a decision to scale back on touring a little bit. In his place, Caws explained, they had drafted Ozma bassist, Daniel Brummel. Brummel is certainly as talented of a musician as the band could have asked for to fill in, but he lacked Lorca’s laid-back vibe.

To be honest, the whole band seemed to have lost their laid back vibe, and its hard to blame that on Lorca’s absence alone. What I next noticed about this performance was how every song seemed to be sped up significantly. I’ve been to a lot of concerts in my life and, sure, songs get sped up a little bit between the studio and the stage, but this seemed to be a bigger change than usual. A few songs didn’t get sped up, such as the lead single off of the new album, “Believe You’re Mine,” which I get the feeling is so new and raw for Caws that he can’t bring himself to do anything but play it as slowly and as tear-jerkingly as possible. Occasionally, the increased speed worked, such as with “Happy Kid,” where the song’s poppy joy was amplified by the faster pace.

However, for the most part, the band’s bizarre experiment in pacing produced strange, unpleasant results. “Weightless” felt so rushed that the song’s subtly strong pulse got lost in what felt like absent minded drumming. “When I Was Young” sped up and slowed down randomly like a failing car. The spoken word section of “Popular”(which we all know takes up the majority of the song) was rattled off so quickly that Caws sounded like a dispassionate auctioneer. “Blonde on Blonde,” for some reason, devolved into Caws just making random noises into the microphone. Still, “Blankest Year,” the band’s perennial closing number, was as much fun as always. Caws really does seem to relish taking a break from his serious poetry to lead the audience in a call and response of “Oh fuck it! (Fuck it!),” which always leads to his fun side coming out, and he seemed to really enjoy improvising guitar riffs at the end.

I can’t claim to know Nada Surf’s motivation behind speeding everything up, but what it felt like was a band that suddenly realized that they now have eight full-length albums. They rarely dip into their cover album, If I Had a Hi-Fi, usually only play one or two songs off of The Proximity Effect, and the only song they play off of High/Low these days is their one mainstream hit, “Popular,” and even then, whether they play “Popular” or not almost seems to be a coin flip decision before each tour. That still leaves four albums worth of old fan favorites in addition to the new album they’re touring in support of and need to highlight in the set list. It really felt like, rather than cut any favorites from the set list, they chose instead to crank up the speed and rush through everything, ruining a number of their best songs in the process.

Every band has an off night, and to be fair, I’ve seen them give another performance less than a year ago at Riot Fest Denver that I would have easily given at least four stars to, had I been reviewing it at the time. Whether or not the pace was off at this particular show for the reasons I speculated about, I can’t be entirely certain, but I would much rather have seen a few of the old favorites cut than see the band playing Nada Surf at the wrong speed.