Nada Surf @ KOKO, London 8/02/12
February 14, 2012 by Fran Jolley
Tonight a freezing London played host to two outstanding American groups, the relatively unknown Waters and the much-travelled Nada Surf. The two groups are very much below the radar of Radio One and a long way from becoming household names but still managed to fill a mid-week Koko, largely by word of mouth and a few overzealous French fans (where Nada Surf have found quite a lot of success, perhaps to their own surprise).
First on was Waters, who came out to perform to a few rows of disinterested audience members but before long had the entire venue rocking. Fusing the spell-binding melodies and harmonies of Crowded House with the energy and at time vocal stylings of The Smashing Pumpkins, Waters can certainly put on a show. This isn’t exactly their first time around, as most of the members have been in other acts before – most notably lead singer Van Pierszalowski of Port O’Brien. Their debut album ‘Out in the Light’ came out at the tail end of 2011, but the majority in attendance were there waiting to be won over.
With tracks like ‘For the One’ and ‘Back to You’ in their arsenal and a mesmerising stage presence it didn’t take long. Pierszalowski commented on how “Koko was the most beautiful venue he had ever played” before releasing another dose of California rock into its space. They may have gotten carried away with their warm reaction, when they decided to end the set without the use of a microphone (this may have worked in the more intimate venues, but Koko? Not so much). Apart from the first four rows, it was near impossible to hear anything the poor band was saying, leaving the crowd to have a natter. It wasn’t the best way to end a great set but, gauging by the line at the merchandise area, Waters had done well.
Just before 9pm Nada Surf made their way on stage, this time as a quintet with members of Guided by Voices and Calexico (rather than the usual core three members). Kicking off with their new album opener ‘Clear Eye for a Clouded Mind’ was a reminder of how much rougher they are in person than in the studio. The added injection of sound from the expanded group was immediately obvious and much welcomed. Matthew Caws’ vocals were near-perfect and he was his usual warm, engaging self: providing us with his little insights and dabbling in banter with the quite bonkers, moustached Ira Elliot on drums, who insisted on spouting out his mock English accent impressions. Daniel Lorca (bass) seemed to be coping well without his constant chain smoking on stage.
Performing a set which featuring their excellent new album ‘The Stars are Indifferent to Astronomy’ made for an energised set, which was perfect for the setting. Choice cuts from their last four albums (excluding their debut) provided us with highlights from all stages of their career, especially when playing ‘Hi–Speed Soul’ (which worked so well with the added members), ‘Always Love’ and ‘See These Bones’. To the side of stage bounced a cluster of loved-up fans dancing and singing throughout, who turned out to be Caws’ long-lost English cousins from when his dad was in a cult!
It was just another interesting chapter from the New Yorkers, whom even mentioned their early struggle, and how friendship prevailed for them to continue on. Just as well they did, as they now have a fantastic back catalogue and get better with each live performance. The harmonies on ‘When I Was I Young’ and ‘Whose Authority’ were far improved and even Lorca was dancing.
An encore of ‘Blonde on Blonde’ and ‘Looking Through’ sealed the show, before the boys bowed out with shared admiration for the audience and venue: “The best place we have played in London” Caws cooed before they waved us all goodnight. Shame they didn’t end with ‘Blankest Year’ but no show is perfect.