Nada Surf fans leave Lancaster on a wave of musical ecstasy

Reviewed by Laura Kate

Sometimes my musical travels take me to the strangest places–both literally and figuratively speaking.  My trip to Lancaster, PA on Tuesday, June 19 was no exception.  First of all, the Chameleon Club is a tiny venue on the back side of a long row of mom and pop shops in downtown Lancaster.  The first time we saw a show there, we drove past it twice before finally spotting its sign.  The club’s size should not put people off from coming there to hear great bands, though.  After all, the 90’s alterna rock band Live got its big break in this hole in the wall of a club.

So as we drove past cow pastures and Amish furniture to get to the venue on the literal part of my road trip, I was super stoked to be on my way to the Nada Surf concert.  Nada Surf is one of those bands featured in the soundtrack of my early college years and exists in one of those golden hazy areas of my mind that houses nostalgia.  Hence, my figurative trip.  I don’t think I’ve ever been in a bad mood while listening to their music.  Happy, moody, reflective, fun, spirited, creative…yes…but never a bad mood.

I still don’t know why the show started so early (doors opened at 6 p.m. and I think the first band went on before 7), but it worked out well because, much to my chagrin, I am no longer a 20-year-old college student that can rock all night and make it to work on time the next day on only three hours of sleep.  As tradition dictates, a local (from Philly, this time) was the first opening band.  I never caught the name of this band, but then, I didn’t catch many of the lyrics either.  While they had some strong riffs every now and then, many of their songs featured the lead singer talk-singing into the mic like the Crash Test Dummies, which has been done before…by the Crash Test Dummies.

However, the second band was one that I will definitely be keeping tabs on.  Waters gave an energetic performance and they really engaged the audience.  This band hails from San Francisco and I could definitely hear some signature California alternative sounds in the same vein as 311 or Incubus trickling along in the stream of sound that included lots of loud guitars and high-pitched singing.  Ok, so not an entirely original sound (I even caught myself thinking, “You know, they could use some samples in this one”), but one done really well by Waters nonetheless.

Daniel Lorca, Matthew Caws, Doug Gillard…meet my crappy camera phone!

When Nada Surf finally took the stage, the crowd had been sufficiently warmed up and we were ready to sing along to our old favorites and learn some new ones too.  It’s really nice when your expectations are not only met, but are exceeded beyond anything you could have imagined, and that is exactly what happened from the first chord of “Clear Eye, Clouded Mind” all the way through the five-song encore (and yes, I am counting drummer Ira Elliott’s rendition of Captain and Tennille’s “Love Will Keep Us Together–unexpected and awesome!) that ended with “Blankest Year.”

Matthew Caws during “When I Was Young”  

Lead singer and guitarist Matthew Caws kept things rolling without missing a note. Needless to say his vocals and lyrics provide the heart of the Nada Surf sound, which ranges from raucously loud to moments of tenderness, such as in my favorite of their songs, “When I Was Young” and “Always Love.”  Maybe in his next life Caws will try his hand at stand-up comedy because that guy certainly shared some funny quips between songs.  Bassist Daniel Lorca, who more than slightly resembled Kevin Spacey in dreads, performed finger acrobatics on the neck of that bass that reminded me of a Flea protege.  Apparent 70’s pop fan Ira Elliott provided a strong, driving beat that looked effortless but sounded anything but–his kicks and fills were complicated in the very best sense of the word.

And that brings me to new guitarist Doug Gillard.  Ho-ly crap!  That guy was amazing.  I stood right in front of him on the front row and it truly was awesome to see him in action.  He blended into the band just like he had been there from the very beginning.  He looked so into what he was doing, like he was just completely awash in the music and his fingers were his little musical oars rowing the band’s boat amid huge swells.  I can’t say enough about Gillard and I hope he stays with the band for the long haul.

We waited around after the show for the possibility of meeting the band and it paid off when Caws came out and made the rounds among us adoring fans.  I scored a set list from one of the stage hands and Caws signed it for me (insert whistful sigh here).  I gave perhaps the most awkward hug of my life when my arm got pinned between us.  Doesn’t it always happen that way?  I swear I am incapable of cool moments when they are most needed, but it didn’t seem to matter to him as he kissed me on the cheek, thus reducing me to a puddle of happiness.  What a nice guy!

So here is my overall assessment.  Unlike the Gotye show, where I didn’t know anything about the musician or what to expect, I arrived at the Nada Surf concert filled with expectations–none of which were disappointed.  Unlike the Smashing Pumpkins concert where Billy Corgan refused to play any of their previous hits and only played new stuff that no one could sing to, Nada Surf gave a perfect blend of the old and the new that was both exciting and satisfying.  Unlike Group Love, who I think are only mediocre at best and I still struggle to understand why they are so popular, Nada Surf’s band members are each a master of their own craft and they came together to give one of the best concerts I’ve ever seen.  Please do yourself a favor and go see them!

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