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!

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