This goes straight into the top 3 gigs ever. Had chanced across Nada Surf on XFM during their brief foray into the British consciousness while ‘Hi Speed Soul’ was out, so I downloaded* everything of theirs I could, and got instantly and totally hooked. They are the best kept secret in music, conseqently you get to see them in a place as small as ULU, but the flip side is that they hardly ever come to the UK. Massive in Belgium, for some inexplicable reason though. Anyway, the support act was a pleasantly inoffensive alt-country act from the States, can’t remember much else about them.
Being a 3-piece, Nada Surf struggle to fill the stage, even one as small as this, and their entrance was somewhat understated, they shuffled on as though they were mortally embarrassed at having to play in front of people. When they got going though, bloody hell they were good. Opened with Matty Caws playing ‘Blizzard of 77’ solo (sat on a bar stool, uh oh, this could all get a bit Val Doonican if they’re not careful), and proceeded to send me to musical nirvana with 90 minutes of blissfully melodic-guitar-based-power-pop, for want of a better description. Caws has a fantastic live voice, and between them they put out quite a solid sound for a three piece, quite a lot more emphasis on the guitar than they sound on vinyl, so to speak. Let Go is, to this day, the best thing they’ve done, IMHFO, and they really did it justice by playing more than half the tracks. The highlight for me, and judging by the crowd reaction, everyone else’s too, was when they broke out of ‘Stalemate’ (at the time unknown to me) and into ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’ for a couple of minutes, and back again. Sublime. The modest crowd was pogo-ing (well, bopping energetically) to Happy Kid, The Way You Wear Your Head, Mothers Day and all the other fast paced ones, and I was quite surprised to see the band wheel out the almost spoken-word Popular, which I really wouldn’t have thought was a live track. Superb.
Even bumped into the band on the stairwell afterwards (that’s how intimate ULU is – backstage is down the stairs and round the corner, rather than, er, backstage). I’m not one for bothering ‘famous’ people though, especially when all they want to do is chill out with a beer and a bowl of M&Ms (with all the brown ones taken out). Unfortunately it would prove to be the only time I would ever see Nada Surf. They waited until a few months after my emigration to NZ to play in London again, and to my knowledge they’ve never even sold a record here, let alone toured. So memories are all I have…
* I now own legal copies of everything they ever did, Mr Hotshot copyright lawyer, so fuck off.