“We are in the middle of a slow-motion, 20-year tour here in San Francisco,” joked Matthew Caws, lead singer and guitarist behind indie rock favorites Nada Surf. On Friday, May 20, Nada Surf played the second show of an extensive 35-city tour, appearing at the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco, featuring a 25-song set list and a double encore.
“We started at The Bottom of the Hill, up to Slim’s, The Fillmore, Great American, we’ve still got Bill Graham and the Swedish to get to,” laughed Caws. The band is touring in support of their eighth studio album, You Know Who You Are, released on March 4. It is their first album of original material since 2012.
Nada Surf experienced a boom of popularity in the mid 1990s and early 2000s as their songs were featured throughout pop culture in movies and TV shows, but following 2008’s Lucky, they began to peter off despite touring heavily, and released an album of covers in 2010. Two years later, after some internal parting of ways, Guided By Voices guitarist Doug Gillard was introduced as a permanent member followingthe release of The Stars Are Indifferent to Astronomy in 2012. He joined Caws, drummer Ira Elliot, and bassist Daniel Lorca.
That same year, Caws moved to England, and Nada Surf was placed on the shelf. A handful of special appearances and acoustic performances kept Nada Surf relatively alive, while Caws took over the band’s Twitter handle, maintaining a direct connection to fans. In early 2015, he began hinting at a new record.
If the anticipation was high before Prism Tats took the stage, it was exponentially growing as 2-inch binders full of notes, lyrics, and chords were placed on the floor, stage right for Brummel, and a quick instrument check was performed.
Of the 10 new tracks on You Know Who You Are, the first seven were played (and not in order or even all together). Opening with the lead single off the album, “Cold To See Clear,” Caws addresses the elephant in the room. “Don’t get me started bout how hard it is to start or stay on track,” he says, and launches into a double shot off of 2008’s Lucky, “Whose Authority” and “Weightless.”
The band maintained a steady rhythm all night despite the rapid bouncing around between albums; the next four songs were from four different albums spanning 18 years. “Believe You’re Mine” from the newest album began a short story into “Lucky” from 2002’s Let Go. The story continued with “Do It Again” and ended with The Proximity Effect‘s “80 Windows.”
“A lot of these songs were written and recorded right here in SF,” Caws said, tuning his guitar. Kicking off the tour on West Coast, particularly San Francisco, shouldn’t surprise a lot of people — the 2005 record This Weight Is A Gift was written and recorded here, making the sold out GAMH performance all the more personal. Nada Surf played almost half of the album.
“What Is Your Secret” led to “Jules and Jim,” one of only two tracks from 2012’s The Stars Are Indifferent To Astronomy to be played all night, led to Caws’ waxing poetic on our collective ability to talk about things in macro versus micro perspectives, the ability to choose small or large and whether or not magic actually exists in this world.
Before moving “Inside of Love” off of Let Go, Caws slowed the pace and led the crowd in a two-step. The next six songs were a back-and-forth dance as well, a two-step between Let Go and the new album, including the new song “Rushing.”
The second track featured from The Stars Are Indifferent broke the cycle. As Caws introduced the tune, “When I Was Young”, he admitted it was a personal tune about his father’s ultra-religious, almost cult-like upbringing, a fact that only added to the weight of the songs already heavy lyrics.
The show ended with the single “See These Bones” from 2008’s Lucky. The band did not linger backstage for long, though, before returning for an encore. Beginning with 1998’s “Hyperspace,” they launched into two of the songs that helped propel them to where they currently rest in the indie-rock game of thrones: the 1996 summer anthem “Popular” (the only track from High/Low to make the set list) and 2005’s “Always Love” which featured a beautiful dedication to the memories of all people that are missed.
They kept spirits high in “The Blankest Year” to end the show, utilizing the song’s pumping call-and-response chorus “Oh fuck it (fuck it!) / I’m gonna have a party.” The band bowed, and left. After about half of the crowd had turned toward the exit, however, they returned once more for an all acoustic double encore play of the fan favorite “Blizzard of ’77” to actually end the show.