Nada Surf – The Fleece, Bristol – 20/04/18

Once upon a time, about 15 years ago, the missus and I heard Hi Speed Soul for the first time on XFM in London, hastily downloaded a dozen assorted Nada Surf songs and got ourselves tickets to what would be one of the best gigs of our lives. That tour was promoting Let Go, still my favourite album of theirs (and anyone else’s, for that matter) and one that I will never, ever tire of hearing. The albums since then have all contained at least two or three that blow my mind but Let Go is the definitive Nada Surf. After the tour in 2003 they steadfastly refused to play in the UK again until after my emigration to NZ in 2005, so I pretty much abandoned all hope of ever seeing them again.

Fast forward a decade and a half and I’m standing outside the Fleece in Bristol, waiting to go in and experience ‘An Evening With Nada Surf’. This is almost surreal. They’re touring to celebrate 15 years since Let Go and they will be playing the album in full. The planets truly have aligned for us, conspiring to coincide a once-in-every-15-years concert with a once-in-every-10-years UK visit.

Matty Caws
The Blizzard of ’77

Nada Surf fall into the category, these days, of indie veterans. Matty Caws has grey hair and Daniel Lorca has very much ‘spread’, in the middle-age sense of the word. Haven’t we all. We’re literally on the barriers at the front when the elderly gentlemen take the stage – we’re 10 feet from one of the best kept secrets in indie music. Yes it would be nice if they were popular enough to warrant a tour to Australasia, but at least this way we get to see them in a cosy club, albeit once in a generation.

Matty strums the opening chords to Blizzard… and we’re away. I can’t think of a concert I could possibly go to where I would know every word to every single song. But here, I know every single word to every single song. They do the whole of Let Go in order, plus the extra one that only appeared on European releases, and it’s just magic. They sound so good, so tight, and Matty’s voice is still crystal clear after all these years. Possibly one of the reasons I like this band so much is because Matty’s vocal range is the same as mine, which makes for fantastic sing-along music. Strange though, that the best one in this hour set is not any of my favourites (Fruit Fly, Happy Kid, The Way You Wear Your Head etc) but the curious album track La Pour Ça sung in French by Daniel. Never been a huge fan of this one in my lounge, but it was oddly haunting and really works live.

After a 20 minute break they come back for another set, of “other stuff.”

The “other stuff” is incredible too, obviously. The old standards like Hyperspace, Stalemate/Love Will Tear Us Apart, and Popular are interspersed with new stuff like Cold To See Clear and New Best Friend. The best is saved for last though. An encore of Always Love and Blankest Year from The Weight… is pretty much the best way to end a concert of this magnitude. Always Love might be my favourite song of theirs, with the possible exception of No Snow On The Mountain (and unless I’m very much mistaken, they played nothing from The Stars Are Indifferent… WTF guys!?). And of course, they knocked it out the freakin’ park.

Close enough to touch them...
Nada Surf live at Bristol Fleece

All over too soon. Ears ringing, cameras full, hearts soaring, we wander out into the Bristol night. I once resigned myself to the fact that I would never see Nada Surf again. I was wrong, luckily, but I really can’t see the gods of rock’n’roll allowing this outrageous piece of good fortune to take place a second time.


The Top Ten

Before WordPress I had a blog on the photosharing site but that mysteriously disappeared without warning (and the domain name has since resurfaced as something else entirely). One of the posts I published was my all time top 10 concerts, I think it might even have sown the seed in my mind for starting this blog, which was initially for gig reviews and little else. Then the gigs got more and more scarce but my appetite for writing stayed healthy so I’ve tried to launch other blogs, but I can never really sustain the same enthusiasm levels as I can when going on about music. So, I am re-hashing blog posts from history now. I know the top 5 probably hasn’t changed since I wrote this the first time (7 years ago maybe?) but maybe the rest has. Who knows.

Here are my top ten gigs in ascending order from 10

10 Hawkwind @ Fairfield Halls, 1989

Difficult to choose a best one of 3 or 4 excellent Hawkwind gigs, but this was the first one. I only knew half of the songs in those days, so a lot of it was a journey of discovery.

9  Datsuns @ The Astoria, 2002

As with #10, the first of several epic performances. They’ve never put in a less than amazing show, but the first time will always be the greatest. One of the very  best live acts on the circuit, even now.

8  Queens Of The Stone Age @ The Forum, 2002

Awesome due to the fact that I only knew the first 3 or 4 tracks off Songs For The Deaf, and the rest of it blew me away completely. I scarcely listen to them any more, which definitely makes this gig the odd one out on this list.

7  Def Leppard @ Brixton Academy, 2003

The very best of big hair and spandex rock, American stylee. The consummate professionals, made me wonder why I’d never seen them before. I’d go and see them again, I really would.

6  Dandy Warhols @ Brixton Academy, 2003

Much better than I expected them to be. I thought they’d be all sloppy and stoned and shit but they are incredibly tight (for a tripped out jam band).

5  Muse @ Big Day Out, 2007

Awesomeness abounds. Hideous environs, awful festival saved by a great performance.

4  Rush @ Wembley Arena, 1992

My heroes. Possibly the best sound I’ve ever heard at Wembley (to put it another way, possibly the only time it hasn’t been shit). They were just so fucking good.

3  Porcupine Tree @ Bloomsbury Theatre, 1999

Reignited a love affair with the works of Steven Wilson that had taken a bit of a back seat while rave happened. There is very little he has ever been involved in that I don’t absolutely adore. I probably listen to his stuff more than Rush or Nada Surf, even.

2  Nada Surf @ ULU, 2003

They taunted me by not playing again in the UK during the 2 1/2 years I lived there after this. Now Matthew Caws lives there and they play there (relatively) regularly and I know I’ll probably never see them again, much as I would like to.

1  Metallica @ Hammersmith Odeon, 1988

Best because of what it meant to me, as well as the fact that Metallica fucking kick ass live. I have since passed up the opportunity to see them in Christchurch, I would definitely see them if they played in Dunedin (as has been rumoured once) but that’s about it. It’s all about the time and the place.


The top 3 or 4 are never likely to change (especially not now I live in Dunedin!) but the rest are somewhat fluid and there are a few at the lower reaches of the top ten that might drop out in favour of others, depending on mood, what I’m listening to when you ask me etc etc. NMA hasn’t quite made the cut, neither has Maiden or Sabbath. Oh the fickleness of Aoide (the muse of song, classics nerds)

I haven’t included any electronic acts, as the circumstances in which I saw them make it less easy to be objective about things (i.e. I was trolleyed) but Orbital or Eat Static at Brixton might have made the cut on another day, as might The Orb. If I wrote a list of top 10 most trolleyed gigs then they’d definitely be on it.

I have tickets to see The Cult and Steven Wilson in the next couple of months. I would be very surprised if Astbury & Duffy came anywhere near getting themselves on this list, but I would be mildly disappointed if Steven Wilson doesn’t disturb the order of things. To say I am looking forward to that one is something of an understatement. I’m flying up to Auckland on my own for that one…

Nada Surf – 08/05/03 – London ULU

Nada Surf ticket May 2003This 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.