Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Nada Surf/Kaki King

Nada Surf: Riding the Lucky Wave

Here's a way to make some easy money: bet that on any given Saturday night, the 9:30 Club will be sold out. It doesn't matter whether or not you've heard of the band. Chances are, you'll win before the day of the show, 'cause a lot of other people will know them, travel many miles to see them, and swarm on the place like locusts.

Last weekend, NPR was there recording Nada Surf, and their opening act Kaki King for broadcasts and webcasts, and interviewing the bands, and the crowd, for their reaction. And it was not by any means a lukewarm reception, but a whole lot of happy fans who heard some memorable music. While we lingered over dinner at Duffy's Pub just across the street, we missed the Jealous Girlfriends unintentionally and completely. If you were there, feel free to send us your comments on them and we'll drop them into the blog.

We did arrive early enough to see Ms. King and her band take the stage, and I was floored by her unusual guitar and the confident presence radiated by the petite 28 year old. Hailing from Atlanta, Kaki honed her distinctive chops and vocal style playing in subway stations in New York, and has since played with stellar musicians including Tegan and Sara and the Foo Fighters, as well as contributing to the soundtrack for "Into the Wild." Her latest recording, "Dreaming Of Revenge," is the first to feature a band, who supported her on a 41 city tour that she described as "life changing." Her set was upbeat and unusual, and she and her band all looked like they were having a great time. And judging by the crowd's reaction, Kaki King will doubtless be back in the spotlight as a headliner very soon.

Nada Surf is a power trio "straight outta Brooklyn" that's been around for over fifteen years. They were greeted by a rowdy, cheering, capacity crowd that were already familiar with the new album, "Lucky," which went on sale in February and has received high praise and enjoyed solid sales, peaking on the indie sales charts at # 8, and still getting AOR airplay. They led off with two old favorites, Hi-Speed Soul, and Happy Kid, both from 2002's "Let Go." They were followed by Whose Authority off the latest album, and What Is Your Secret? from their 2005 recording, "The Weight Is a Gift." Other highlights included I Like What You Say (my favorite cut off "Lucky"), Fruit Fly, The Fox (written for our good friends at Fox News, during which Caws obligingly wore a faux-fox head as a hat) and See These Bones. The encore featured earlier Nada Surf favorites Blizzard of '77 and Blonde on Blonde (from "Let Go"), the band representing most of their output (save the first record) with careful selections, all of which sounded fresh and lively.

Singer/guitarist Matt Caws confessed to be the primary writer in the band, sequestering himself to get into the proper frame of mind to compose new songs. However, all of Nada Surf's compositions are credited not just to him, but to bandmates Daniel Lorca (bass), and Ira Elliott (drums), who all bring their own perspective and adroit musicianship to the table. A truly (and fiercely) independent band, Nada Surf follows its own muse, taking time between recordings, and creating accessible pop/rock with catchy hooks that is quietly optimistic while dealing with real life, real world issues, with which everyone can identify.

The band was in good voice as well, as Caws and Lorca occasionally harmonized, their nonstop pace keeping the audience in a pleasant frenzy. Caws mentioned that his girlfriend's mom was at the show that night, and that he felt a bit uncomfortable, but it was clearly a gag. Playing too well to be punk, and sounding far too happy to be typecast as emo, Nada Surf occupies a rare spot in contemporary music as a smart band that has balls and a pop sensibility that makes the most commonplace observations and events meaningful and touching. Keep up the great work, and we'll be on board for that next album!

Monday, April 7, 2008


Hmmmm.....Looks like Mick Jones is phoning this one in.

So, there we were at the 9:30 Club, on the first soggy Sunday in April, knowing little about Carbon/Silicon but their new, full length CD, the catchy pop of "The Last Post," and not really being sure what to expect. The band's two more illustrious names, the Clash's Mick Jones, and Generation X alum Tony James, needed no introduction.

What I didn't know is that the band had been around for six years and several EPs released prior to that, all available from their website (www.carbonsiliconinc.com) as downloads, although now getting distribution via Amazon and other music services. Ex- Big Audio Dynamite bassist Leo "Eezykill" Williams, and drummer Dominic Greensmith made this eclectic combination sound far better live than the kind of tame, heavily produced CD would imply, but their sound leaned far more toward B.A.D. than its punkier ancestors. Still, sometimes there was an edge to the more contemporary, radio friendly selections as they did an hour or so of well-rehearsed songs in a fast-paced, upbeat and surprisingly sonorous set.

Matt Pond PA was an impressive opening act, and like some of the other talented opening acts I've seen over the years at the 9:30 Club (Elbow, Ohm, Grace Potter and the Nocturnals), I wouldn't be a bit surprised to see them headlining in the not-too-distant future. The band's sound is kind of hard to capture, but some tasty leads by guitarist Stephen Jewett, and punchy drumming by Dan Crowell, as well as Pond's distinctive vocals, made for an interesting mix. Elements of 70's classic rock, postpunk, and modern college radio indie rock were part of a beguiling blend that brought many in the audience there just to see them. I was hoping that bassist NY Matt might drop me a line to give me a set list, but I never heard back from him. Still, the band was solid and I plan to be more familiar with their music by the next visit...

Carbon/Silicon's set was short, and relied heavily on their latest recording. The band opened with The Magic Suitcase, followed by I Loved You from their 2006 release, "Western Front." War On Culture, one of the better songs off "The Last Post," and the anthemic single The News, hinted that the irony and angst that marked their prior work was still percolating just below the surface, but was never really addressed. Generally, we instead received an amiable "nudge nudge, wink wink" as Jones joked with the crowd. He made reference to returning to Washington, noting it was his first visit to the Capitol in twelve years.

But if anyone there was expecting indignation and fury, they would be disappointed. Even What The F*ck, also from the new record, sounded less outrageous than cliche, a tired observation from a jaundiced eye that has seen too much, and is too worn out to do anything about it. Soylent Green (dedicated to the late Charlton Heston), Really the Blues, and a seemingly out of place rendition of the Faces' Reason To Believe, delivered in an altogether original orchestration, were much stronger. However, eagerly anticipated Gen X and Clash covers were conspicuously absent, as a few old-school punks, now in their 40's and 50's, thrashed and moshed briefly (before their Geritol fizzled out!) to the new material. But the band ended on a high note with Why Do Men Fight? with Mick thanking Conan O'Brien for allowing the band to perform it recently on his show.

Mick and Tony both looked well, each sporting gray, two-piece suits (and matching gray hair) that would have looked politically incorrect during their late 70's heyday. Tony James' guitar resounded with characteristic power and gusto, and Mick's vocals (while not particularly strong) were usually dependable. Williams and Greensmith played with far more fervor than their better known frontmen, who laid back, smiling Cheshire Cat grins. But the new material, while tight and mostly enjoyable, still fell short of the expectations one could reasonably have for something with more crunch, and more substance than the occasional wry observation that world continues to spin on, inexorably.