Live at the Neptune Theatre
It makes sense that a consistently good band would release a live album that’s, well, consistently good. The two-decade-old Nada Surf just dropped an album they recorded three years ago while on tour for their seventh and latest LP, The Stars are Indifferent to Astronomy. Perhaps the indie rock stalwarts put out the live album now to tide their fans over in the interim between The Stars and whenever they churn out new material. Available exclusively through PledgeMusic, fans can purchase the live album digitally and/or obtain a deluxe LP package that includes a poster from the gig, a color booklet, and other goodies from the show. Named after the Seattle venue they recorded at, Live at the Neptune Theatre is a 21-track, 102-minute chronicling of Nada Surf’s pleasant, mid-tempo rock.
The opening two tracks of Live at the Neptune Theatre share the same sequence on The Stars. The bright, chunky chords of “Clear Eyed Clouded Mind” and “Waiting for Something” are brought to the fore in the live album and not sedate like the studio recording. Actually, The Stars and Live have a few things in common. To note, both feature guest musicians, who frontman Matthew Caws says “are all over the new record” after the fourth track, “What is your Secret.” Caws graciously introduces Guided by Voices’ Doug Gillard who plays lead guitar and Martin Wenk who adds keyboards, trumpet, and xylophone to both albums. Gillard’s skillful work is most prominent on the six-and-a-half-minute “When I Was Young” and Wenk’s xylophone adds oomph to the already-peppy “Hi-Speed Soul” from Let Go.
While Nada Surf revisit most of their catalog throughout Live, they interestingly did not play anything from their first album, High/Low, which included their biggest hit “Popular.” It’s almost as if that album never existed. In fact, the band only played one song from their second album, the super catchy “80 Windows”. Three audible, separate requests for “Popular” went unheeded. That omission was likely deliberate. After failing to produce another hit like “Popular,” and being regarded as a one-hit wonder by the majors, Nada Surf were dropped from Elektra Records after their second album. They signed with the Seattle-based Barsuk Records in 2002 and released their layered opus, Let Go, which bore little resemblance to the geek rock of High/Low. While the frontman hammed it up for Live by engaging in cute, funny banter after virtually every song, he made a point of mentioning the band’s ties to Seattle at various intervals. After the third song, the rollicking “Happy Kid,” Caws reveals that Nada Surf are “grateful” for being on Barsuk Records for a decade. After the obligatory clapping from the crowd, the band launches into “Whose Authority” from the Barsuk-released Lucky.
Aside from their love of Seattle, Caws reveals tidbits about himself and the songs. For example, after a dude shouts “OH YEAHHHHH!” after the clean guitar arpeggios of the gentle “Killian’s Red,” Caws says he’d “give anything to have that voice” and talks about his love of The Sonics from, where else, Seattle. While Caws’ voice is thin, it is unique and suits Nada Surf’s melodic rock well. That is most apparent during “Weightless,” where Caws’ instructs the audience to accompany him on the harmonies in the outro. But, Caws’ vocals also work on the two fast-paced rockers “Concrete Bed” and “The Way You Wear Your Head.” Caws mentions that the chorus “what we are/ you will be” and “what you are/ we once were” from the mellow “See These Bones” was actually taken from two plaques in an ossuary he visited. In a seemingly-calculated fashion, the frontman tells the audience after that soothing song that the show is being recorded by John Goodmanson, who also produced Lucky. The timing of that nugget and the shout-outs to Seattle could seem contrived, but they’re most likely deliberate, as in a band that deliberately has persevered and has continued to put out good records.