. : : April 4th, 2012 : : .
OK, so I admit it: I may have used some dramatic license when writing my review of Nada Surf at Sonic Boom Records.
When I said I had no intention of going to the Nada Surf concert at the Opera House after the record store show, I wasn’t lying… well, not exactly. I didn’t have any intention of going; that is, until about two days before the show when I was notified I’d won a pair of passes through an online contest.
The only thing better than a free Nada Surf concert is two free Nada Surf concerts. So, I rushed out of Sonic Boom faster than I probably would have otherwise, and made my way back east. When I got off the street car at Broadview and Queen St. E, I met my best friend and plus-one, and we decided to grab a quick bite to eat at Dangerous Dan’s — a local greasy spoon burger joint claiming to have the best burgers in town.
After a delicious meal and good conversation, we headed over to the Opera House, perhaps half-way into the set of opener An Horse. We hovered at the back of the room, and took in the sights and the sounds — but the Opera House is one of the boomier, more echoey venues in the city. I had not had much success taping at The Opera House in the past and, in fact, a disproportionate number of my WORST concert experiences happened within these very walls.
But I’m not going to rehash old complaints and transgressions of the venue and its staff. Rather, I’m going to focus on one very important different: this time, I had a great time at the Opera House.
OK, sure. Granted. The sound is still reminiscent of a brassy fart in a porcelain bowl, but it turns out the trick is to actually get really close to the speakers. Like, really close. And wear earplugs because a) they stop you from going deaf, and b) they cut out a lot of the shittier frequencies the shitty speakers shit out. Oh, wait, I was being positive, wasn’t I? Ahem.
These techniques made the sound tolerable at worst, and actually pretty good at best. I’m a bit sad to say that the show was far from a sell out — there was plenty of room on the floors to stretch out in every direction if you really wanted to — but this meant that I could also angle myself with a decent sight line as well.
The band started off the set very similarly to the set that was performed at Sonic Boom. In fact, it wasn’t until the fifth selection of the night that the band deviated far from the earlier performance, but breaking out an older favourite from The Weight Is A Gift, What Is Your Secret?, is a great place to start.
Nada Surf just isn’t the live band that they once were. Just as age is colouring their music, it seems to have also dulled the energy and enthusiasm that once made their live sets so exciting. With almost twenty years worth of a back catalogue, you’d also hope their setlist would be slightly less predictable. I almost felt like I was doing a mental checklist of the set as it continued on: Happy Kid? Check. Killian’s Red? Check. 80 Windows? Check. Blonde on Blonde, Hi-Speed Soul, Inside of Love, Always Love, Blankest Year? Check, check, check, check and double check.
When the band last played Toronto, two years ago almost to the week, they pulled out Neither Heaven Nor Space — a bit of a deep cut that turned around an otherwise paint-by-numbers set. This show, however, didn’t have that stand out track for old, devoted fans.
Don’t get me wrong, though. In spite of this list of short-comings and surprise-lacking setlist, it was great to see the band again. Traveling tour bandmates, Martin Wenk and Doug Gillard help bring a bit of extra energy and uumph to the sound. The old, predictable set list is still chalk full of great songs (without relying extensively on radio singles) that provided a refreshing wave of nostalgia. The band still seems to be earnestly enjoying performing them, and seem exceptionally grateful to its fans. The new songs didn’t go a long way in winning me over, but were performed with a bit more gusto than on the album.
So, although I may complain that the band isn’t exactly burning on all cylinders anymore, I can’t exactly complain about their slow burn, either. The band performed an extremely generous 100min plus selection of more than 20 songs, only a quarter of which were culled from The Stars Are Indifferent To Astronomy.
As my 13th ever Nada Surf show, I was hoping for something specific to pop, make a magical memory, and solidify is as lucky thirteen. A better-than-expected sounding venue, and good if unremarkable set wasn’t quite enough to spark that particular fire, but Nada Surf had another trick up its sleeve.
Unable to accommodate any of the myriad of requests being thrown at the band, outside of a mostly-solo version of Your Legs Grow requested prior to the show on Twitter, due to the songs being unrehearsed (a problem compounded by the new members having perhaps never played them), frontman and all-around nice guy Matthew Caws made an off-hand comment about bringing his guitar out and performing a couple of songs after the show solo back by the bar. Most of the crowd either didn’t catch it, or didn’t believe it, and filed out of the venue in a timely fashion after the close of the encore.
Having been a Nada Surf fan for quite some time now, I’ve heard of these special post-show performances happening from time to time, but in my long, storied history with the band, I’d yet to experience it myself. Backstage, at the bar, outside the venue, tales of Matthew’s performances littered the (now mostly defunct) Nada Surf fan sites and official message board. Such am offer is remarkably beyond accommodating, kind and/or wonderful, and is a phenomenal gesture to his die-hard fans. Even knowing it’s happened before, I waited after the set a bit aflutter. After all, what if he didn’t really mean it, and just threw the comment out to appease the more aggressive requesters? What if he forgot? What if he got tied up with old friends? What if he was simply too tired? Oh, but this was JUST the experience I was looking for.
Some 15- to 20-minutes later, sure enough, sans entourage, Matthew Caws emerged from backstage with his strikingly beautiful Gibson Hummingbird acoustic guitar, and before long, was playing Ice On The Wing — one of the stand out non-single tracks from the band’s last album, Lucky, that I’d secretly hoped they’d bring to the stage. I was ecstatic.
Matthew was kind enough to take a couple more requests from the band’s landmark 2002 album Let Go, in Fruit Fly and Blizzard of ’77. The entire set was a mutual love-affair, as the crowd sang their hearts out, smiles stretching their face. It was a brilliant, amazing, heart-warming moment that re-enforced just why I fell in love with this band. Matthew kept apologizing for not knowing the songs perfectly, but no one seemed to care.
OK, that’s not exactly true, either. When he got to the closing refrain of Blizzard of ’77, he forgot the chords and gave up with a shy apology. The crowd broke out into an appreciate applause as he pushed his way out of the impromptu circle, but I stopped him when he got to me. “C-walkdown, G, A-minor, finish the song!” I begged (getting the chords right, but their order slightly wrong — I was caught up in the moment!). After all, this last refrain has specific and deep sentimental attachment, and I couldn’t let it end prematurely. Matthew was kind enough to shrug off the somewhat brashness of my
demand request, and finished the song. Beautiful.
So, there it was. A great, memorable show at the Opera House. Who would’ve thunk it? Certainly not I, but I’m gladly proven wrong.
The recording sounds better than it deserves to. The vocals come through loudest and clearest of all, and the instruments seem to work their way into increased clarity as the show wears on. The un-mic’ed second encore is a bit of a mixed bag. Matthew’s vocals are strong, but often in contention with the fans’ around me. There’s a bunch of background noise competing for attention too: clinking glasses, sputtering cash registers, idle conversation, etc. There’s also a couple of mic bumps as I reposition for sound direction, and as Matthew moves mid-song closer to the bar, and out of the way of the merch table. Granted, it’s no soundboard recording, but it’s a damn fine souvenir from a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I’m glad that I’m able to share it with you (and the hundreds of fans whose patience wore thin and drove them out of the venue all too early), dear listener. Listen, and please enjoy.
02. Clear Eye, Clouded Mind
03. Waiting For Something
04. Happy Kid
05. Whose Authority?
06. What Is Your Secret?
08. Teenage Dreams
11. Killian’s Red
13. Jules and Jim
14. Concrete Bed
16. 80 Windows
17. When I Was Young
19. The Way You Wear Your Head
20. Your Legs Grow
22. No Snow on the Mountain
24. Blonde on Blonde
25. Hi-Speed Soul
27. See These Bones
30. Inside of Love
31. Always Love
33. Blankest Year
34. Ice on the Wing*
35. Fruit Fly*
36. Blizzard of ’77*
*performed solo by Matthew Caws at the bar after the set.
Super huge thank yous to Nada Surf, The Opera House, An Horse, and Collective Concerts for an amazing evening of song and merriment.