Despite the fact that it was colder than a well-digger's ass outside -- and on top of that, the alleged day of rest -- I ventured out to Webster Hall Sunday night to see Delta Spirit and Nada Surf on one of the last nights of their tour. In the end all that shivering and teeth clattering was a small price to pay for three solid hours of seriously good music.
The first thing that struck me about the gig was that, though I only caught the last two or three songs of opener Bear Hands, the line-up was super cohesive. Musically the bands' sounds just gelled, no doubt thanks in part to weeks or months on the road together.
Delta Spirit is one of those bands that I've been listening to for a little while, following on MySpace, etc., but haven't seen live or really jumped on an album just yet. Sunday certainly changed that first bit for me, but definitely the full-fledged, album-buying fan part, too.
Their sound translates so well live, and Matt Vasquez is manic on the mic and awesome to watch. They played a few of my faves, incuding "Parade" and "Trashcan," which are both available on their MySpace. "Trashcan" was definitely a highlight of the set, partly because it's so raucous in the first place, and partly because it's just one of my favorite songs at the moment. The tinny sound of the piano is like an old upright and seeing it live felt like a gospel brunch. Good times. Other than that, though, the high point was definitely their mini-encore, for which they were joined by Matthew Caws of Nada Surf on "People Turn Around," a fabulous sing-along free for all. Couldn't have picked a better way to close the set.
"People Turn Around" left the energy amped and high for Nada Surf, and they delivered on that energy for more than 90 minutes. It was the first time in ages I've been to a show where I felt like the headlining set went on forever -- in the best way. Most of the time it just flies by, and I find myself surprised that it's time for the encore. This time around it was exactly the opposite. The whole thing just felt comfortable and lived-in, like Nada Surf knew us and we knew them and they'd been playing for us for as long as they could remember. At the same time, it was fresh and varied and the set list featured the perfect blend of old and new, with lots of material coming from Let Go and Lucky, and a little from The Weight is a Gift.
I guess for me the best part of the set was that Nada Surf is a band I stopped listening to with any sort of religious zealousness somewhere between 2002's Let Go and 2005's The Weight is a Gift. It wasn't that I stopped listening completely, but I wasn't doing as much of it as I had been, and I wasn't buying entire albums anymore, either. After Sunday, though, I think I'm definitely back on the wagon. They played a good number of my old favorites, like "Happy Kid" and "Inside of Love," and some that are steadily becoming new favorites, like "Beautiful Beat," "Weightless" and "I Like What You Say," which are all from Lucky, just out in February of this year on Barsuk. They did "Blizzard of '77" and "Blonde on Blonde" in the encore, both from Let Go.
It's pretty obvious that Matthew Caws has experience working an audience, because his stage banter is so spontaneous and funny -- he told a story about an embarrassing leather jacket he'd had as a teenager, and how he'd come to see The Ramones at Webster Hall in 1987 and it had been stolen, thus helping him to make a less ridiculous fashion choice. I definitely go to gigs for the music, but it's little tidbits like that one that can set a concert apart for me, and really make bigger venues feel more intimate.
The fact is, Nada Surf still rock just as much as they did on High/Low -- and all the while flipping the bird to their biggest commercial hit, "Popular," which warms the heart of the anti-capitalist musician in me -- and Lucky proves that they're also still making really good, relevant alternative rock outside the touring arena, too.