Concert Review: Nada Surf at the Beachland Ballroom

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Not many bands have had the track run of Nada Surf. The New York indie rock act followed the typical trajectory of starting small and then blowing up after one of its tunes (“Popular”) became a hit in the mid-'90s. A feud with the record label, which wanted more hits on the follow-up album, followed and the band was subsequently dropped. For most bands, this would mark the end. But not Nada Surf. The group got a second wind and has soldiered on, carving out a niche for itself as an indie power-pop act that embraces an indie aesthetic and emphasizes songwriting and pretty vocal harmonies over radio-friendly appeal.

While its studio recordings have a precious pop quality to them, Nada Surf turned up the amps for its new album, The Stars Are Indifferent to Astronomy, and adding guitarist Doug Gillard (Death of Samantha, Gem, Guided by Voices, Cobra Verde) to the mix gives them the extra juice that they need. A former Clevelander, Gillard has played with the band for the past couple years, but last night’s gig at the Beachland marked his first appearance with the group in Cleveland, something singer-guitarist Matthew Caws acknowledged as he introduced him mid-set and said, “thank you Ohio for this man.”

The band started the nearly two hour concert off with the new tracks “Clear Eye Clouded Mind” and the catchy “Waiting for Something” before turning to a mix of material from all seven of his studio albums. Gillard’s gritty guitar work really benefited older tunes such as “Treehouse,” a track from the band’s 1996 debut High/Low, and he seemed to make all the songs sound just a bit louder (and better). The group even included a cover of the obscure “Electrocution,” a song written by Cleveland’s Bill Fox of the Mice fame, which Caws said he and his bandmates had to rehearse just for this show. A four-song encore featured two of the band’s best songs – “Always Love” and “Blankest Year,” the latter of which became a ferocious jam and closed out a really solid performance.

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