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author, journalist and dee jay Tony Fletcher.
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TO BE PUBLISHED IN THE UK BY OMNIBUS PRESS, JULY 14 2003
FOR MORE INFORMATION ABOUT HEDONISM AND TO READ EXCERPTS, CLICK HERE
This most mundane of clichés held true metaphorically as well as literally last week, the New York gig circuit overflowing with home-grown and far flung talent. In particular, Thursday night presented a quandary of riches for any confirmed concert fan, with Radiohead playing the Beacon Theater, Arthur Lee and Love (yes, the recently released-from-jail Arthur Lee) performing Forever Changes with an orchestra at the Town Hall, and The Rapture and LCD Soundsystem continuing the promotion for the Yes New York album (with token Norwegian Erland Oye) at Irving Plaza.
And that was barely the half of it. At the club level, Long Island female rap trio Northern State were celebrating the release of their highly-touted debut album at the Bowery Ballroom; Brooklyn's Mink Lungs celebrating the release of their new album at the Mercury Lounge; while over at Brooklyn's Southpaw, New Jersey's Nada Surf were continuing the relentless touring by which they've maintained a viable career under extremely challenging circumstances. Given that a) Southpaw is up the road from me, b) Nada Surf's most recent album Let Go is in firm contention for my Top 10 2003 list (read my review here), and c) that I've only seen the band perform once before, and that some three years ago, I went with the walk round the block rather than a journey into Manhattan.
Support was supplied by Perth, Western Australia's The Sleepy Jackson, who like many Antipodean bands especially those removed from trendy metropolises such Sydney and Melbourne wear their influences on their sleeves without any sense of irony. This means that in the space of but a few songs, I heard echoes of Led Zeppelin drums, Who bass lines, Buffalo Springfield guitar picking, and Sonic Youth feedback. (And I arrived too late to hear the Beach Boys a capella introduction for which they are apparently semi-famous.) While there's something quite endearing about a band that's so all-embracing, and front man Luke Steele performs with panache, such an earnest approach to rock'n'roll legacy is also limiting. I was easily entertained, but I was not actively engaged. Next time perhaps - when I've had a greater chance to digest their recordings.
Nada Surf at Southpaw. Matthew Caws at right, Daniel Lorca in center, attentive audience at left.
I've had plenty of time to digest Nada Surf's recordings, which have grown consistently stronger since 1998's debut album, High/Low, and its novelty hit, 'Popular'. Encouraged at the time by their label, Elektra, to produce more of the same, the trio instead delivered the altogether more subtle follow-up The Proximity Effect. Elektra rejected the album, demanding more 'hit singles'; the band told them to take it or leave it. Elektra opted for the latter, dropping the band but refusing to let them release the album themselves. (They insisted they would sell it only to another major that could reimburse them for the full recording costs.)
What followed was a battle of wills and a lesson in obstinacy: Nada Surf knew they were done with the major label experience, but also knew they had a record worth hearing if they could get it out independently and as it was released on other labels in Europe and garnered acclaim, they had every reason to feel their confidence was justified. By refusing to give up, as so many other bands would, they finally obtained the master tapes and released The Proximity Effect independently in 2000. The positive response it generated enabled their third album, the superb Let Go, to see initial release on ultra-cool Heavenly in the UK, which in turn subsequently assured it some proper attention upon recent American release.
On Thursday night, in front of an ardently loyal, and largely female crowd, Nada Surf played up to their strengths, while revealing a few weaknesses that may prevent them ever moving into the big leagues. The band's strengths are simple: classic songwriting, heartfelt singing, rock-solid playing. Guitar player and prime author Matthew Caws (at right) has one of those constantly yearning voices that effortlessly tug on the heart-strings; bassist Daniel Lorca offers perfect harmonies and a fine soft occasional lead voice of his own; drummer Ira Elliot keeps it precise; a fourth member, keyboardist Louis Nemo, seemed a little incongruous in his central onstage positioning but helped flesh out the sound.
Commenting on a group's "best" songs often seems like an exercise in subjectivity, but that makes it all the more interesting when the band itself seems to agree. Nada Surf played so many of my personal favorites up front Let Go's opener, 'Blizzard Of '77', its fine penultimate track 'Treading Water', the new single 'Inside Of Love' and the last one 'Hi-Speed Soul', along with The Proximity Effect's stand-out 'Amateur' that I was convinced they'd prematurely shot their load. An hour and a half later, when they encored with the superlative ballad 'Blonde On Blonde', the uptempo 'The Way You Wear Your Head', and The Proximity Effect's lead track 'Hyperspace', it was apparent that the band has created a deeper mine of material over its last two albums than most groups could aspire to in a lifetime.
Nada Surf's appeal lies in its emotional frailty. A new song early in the set contained the chorus line, "Bury me in joy, cover me in sorrow,"; another unfamiliar number offered the lyric, "To find someone you love, you gotta be someone you love." It was perhaps no surprise then that a mid-set song morphed into 'Love Will Tear Us Apart', and that for an encore dedicated to the group's recently deceased van, they took on 'There Is A Light That Will Never Go Out.' Superb songs both, but overly obvious each; like The Sleepy Jackson, Nada Surf wear their influences a little tightly for comfort.
The band's lyrical inferiority complex plays into an onstage fear of commitment: that so many of Nada Surf's songs are ballads or mid-tempo pop anthems should not prevent them from periodically exploding. 'The Way You Wear Your Head' is a rare exception, its relentlessly repetitive rhythmic arrangement perpetuating the song's sense of urgency as Caws sings "I want to want you/I need to need you/I'd love to love you." But otherwise, on the occasions that Ira Elliot segued into some furious Moon-like drum rolls, one got the sense he was feeling frustration with the group's niceties, and as the set dragged beyond the comfortable one-hour length, I shared that concern with him.
What was most sorely lacking from Nada Surf's unquestionably impassioned performance was the sense of dynamics that would have propelled any one of these superb songs into, dare I say it, the power ballad or stadium rock territory. As such, I couldn't help but feel that, future hit singles notwithstanding, Nada Surf have found their level. They're songwriters almost without parallel at the moment. But until they can find an extra gear to shift into onstage, they'll remain club rockers.
That most mundane of clichés has never seemed truer than over the past week in New York, during which time we've had 50% more rain in the first seven days of the month that we can usually expect for the whole of June. Driving out towards Giants Stadium Saturday lunchtime in what seemed like a biblical downpour, I recalled how, precisely nine years ago, I'd made the same journey for the Ireland-Italy World Cup game, which was played in a near 100-degree heatwave. As such, I couldnt help but lament how, ironically, the Field Day promoters had gotten the British style festival they'd planned after all that is, a complete wash-out.
I stopped trying to bring the family to rock festivals since suffering similar weather at V98 or 99, when we felt like we were doing Campbell (our son) a disservice by having him watch James (the band) for the second time already in his then very short life. And neither myself nor the wife had ever felt like attending Field Day on our own. So we drove right by Giants, continuing our own pre-structured weekend plans, and wished anyone who was heading for the stadium good luck at making the best of an appalling set of circumstances.
No dance tents or camping tents in which to stay dry: hardly the 'Field Day' originally intended...
It seems like they did. Press accounts credit Radiohead, Blur, the Beastie Boys, and especially, Underworld for giving it their all. (That the latter band, casually labeled a techno/electronica act by those who know no better, could conquer a wet festival crowd, will come as no surprise to anyone who's ever seen them in the flesh or even just their live DVD, Everything Everything.) Beck was forced to cancel after falling over backstage. Rumors that he did so dancing to Underworld turn out to have been just those; he was in fact knocked to the ground by stage hands.
Finally, Jon Pareles in the Times rightly points out one small saving grace that came with switching the venue to the artifical turf of Giants: "On Long Island an open field would probably have turned into a mudhole."
The smoking ban in New York bars continues to attract its critics, but it's spawned at least one potentially positive sub-culture: the pick-up circuit. Step outside any buzzing Big Apple bar, whether or not you crave a cigarette (and whether or not it's raining), and you'll notice an entire scene taking place on the doorstep: total strangers bonding over their mutual love of nicotine, getting into all kinds of casual conversations, and frequently heading back indoors together. How many of these new acquaintances also go home together has yet to be stastistically compiled, but I'd wager there's a higher instance than there used to be. Smokers well, single smokers have something to thank Bloomberg for after all.
JUNE 2-8: Six Feet Under - Over, Field Day, Siren Fest, Crouching Tigher Hidden Cigarette
MAY 19-JUNE 1: Ian McCulloch live, New York's financial woes, Six Feet Under, Hedonism, Tommy Guerrero.
MAY 5-18: Live reviews of The Rapture, De La Soul, Carlsonics, Laptop, The Libertines, Echoboy, The Greenhornes; observations on Chris Coco/The Blue Room, The Apple Music Store, Alan Freed, Phil Spector, The Matrix Reloaded, Rare Earth, Tinnitus and Royale!
APRIL 28-MAY 4: Flaming Lips, Madonna, Bill Maher, The Dixie Chicks, the war
APRIL 21-27: Rotary Connection, War(n) Out, Cocaine Talk
APRIL 14-20: Belated London Musings on Death Disco and CPFC.
APRIL 7-13: London Musings: Madness, Inspiral Carpets, the Affair, the Palace, the Jam
MARCH 31-APRIL 6: Music be the spice of life, London Calling: Ten Observations from the Old Country
MARCH 24-30: Six Foot Under, Peaches/Elefant live, MP Frees and Busted Boy Bands
MARCH 17-23: Röyksopp live, Transmission, Worn-Out War Talk
MARCH 10-16: Live reviews: Stratford 4, Flaming Sideburns, Joe Jackson Band, Linkin Park. Why I Oppose The War (For Now).
MARCH 3-9: The Pursuit of Happiness, Weekend Players, U.S. Bombs, Al Farooq, A New Pessimism, Brooklyn Half Marathon
FEBRUARY 24-MARCH2: Orange Park, Ali G-Saddam Hussein-Dan Rather-Bill Maher-Jon Stewart TV reviews, Stellastarr*, James Murphy, The Station nightclub fire, the Grammys
FEBRUARY 17-23: Village Voice Poll, Singles Club, Smoke and Fire
FEBRUARY 3-16: Snug, The Face, Pink, Supergrass live, Keith Moon, Phil Spector, Gore Vidal
JANUARY 27-FEBRUARY 2: Communist Chic, Spiritland, Daddy You're A Hero, Keith Moon, State of the Union, CPFC and more on Iraq
JANUARY 20-26: Divisions of Laura Lee, Burning Brides, Words On War, Child Abuse of a Different Kind, Losing My Edge
JANUARY 13-19: Pete Townshend, Pee Wee Herman, South Park and more Pete Townshend
JANUARY 6-12: Interpol in concert, Tony Fletcher's Top 10 Albums and Singles of 2002, More on Joe Strummer and The Clash, Fever Pitch and Bend It Like Beckham.
DECEMBER 31 2002 -JAN 5 2003: A tribute to Joe Strummer, Radio 4 live on New Year's Eve
DECEMBER 25-30: NO POSTINGS: ON VACATION
DECEMBER 16-24: Metro Area, Breakbeat Science, Sting makes Wine, New York Downtown redesigns, Keith Moon anecdotes, Campbell's jokes.
DECEMBER 9-15: Tiswas, pledge drives, The View from Up North
DECEMBER 2-8 MUSINGS CLICK HERE (includes Weekend Players and Snow Lit Piano Bars)
FOR NOVEMBER 25-29 MUSINGS CLICK HERE (includes Joe Hurley, Thanksgiving, Sven Väth, Richie Hawtin)
FOR NOVEMBER 16-24 MUSINGS CLICK HERE (includes Longwave, The Pleased, Get Your War On, Powder, Radio 4, Supreme Beings Of Leisure, Ben Neill, Baldwin Brothers, Thievery Corporation)
FOR NOVEMBER 9-15 MUSINGS CLICK HERE (includes CMJ report including Datsuns, von Bondies and My Favorite, and political Eagles)
FOR NOVEMBER 2-8 MUSINGS CLICK HERE (includes Halloween, the New York Marathon, and British Cuisine)
FOR OCTOBER 26-NOV 1 MUSINGS CLICK HERE (includes live reviews of The Streets, Mooney Suzuki, Sahara Hotnights, Flaming Sideburns, Stellastarr*; Jam Master Jay; Halloween)
FOR OCTOBER 19-25 MUSINGS CLICK HERE (includes Underworld live, Atlantic Avenue antics, Girls and Boys night)
FOR OCTOBER 12-18 MUSINGS CLICK HERE (includes Bali Bombing and stupid editorials, the Electro-Clash festival, VHS Or Beta, Ballboy, Mindless Self Indulgence, 2 Many DJs, Tom Petty, The Streets, pointless stop-the-war e-mails)
FOR OCTOBER 5-11 MUSINGS CLICK HERE (includes Steve Earle and John Walker's Blues, Dreaming Of Britney, Girls Against Boys and Radio 4)
FOR SEPTEMBER 28-OCT 4 MUSINGS CLICK HERE (includes White Stripes live, Morel live, My Generation re-issue)
FOR SEPTEMBER 21-27 MUSINGS CLICK HERE (includes The Creation live, Village Voice, Wine not Whine and more)
FOR SEPTEMBER 14-20 MUSINGS CLICK HERE (includes Firefighter Andre Fletcher, Untamed, Uncut, and more September 11 Musings)
FOR SEPTEMBER 7-13 MUSINGS CLICK HERE (includes Sep 11 memorials, Did Bin Laden Win?, Scissor Sisters and Electro-clash)
FOR AUGUST 31-SEPTEMBER 6 MUSINGS CLICK HERE (includes The Strokes live, The Rising, Saint Etienne, Team USA, a.i., Tahiti 80, Dot Allison)
FOR AUGUST 17-30 DAILY MUSINGS CLICK HERE (includes holiday musings, wine reviews, Luna at Southpaw, and more)
FOR AUGUST 10-16 DAILY MUSINGS CLICK HERE (includes lengthy Who live review)
FOR JULY 27-AUG 9 DAILY MUSINGS CLICK HERE (includes Area 2, 24 Hour Party People Party, Hootenanny Tour, 2 Many DJs and more.
FOR JULY 20-26 DAILY MUSINGS CLICK HERE (includes Wilson Pickett, John Entwistle, rebuilding downtown NYC)
FOR JULY 13-19 DAILY MUSINGS CLICK HERE (includes Love Parade, Teany, RenewNYC, Femi Kuti, NRA, Londonisation of New York, Britishification of Global Rock)
FOR JULY 6-12 DAILY MUSINGS CLICK HERE (includes Mike Meyers as Keith Moon, the RAVE Act, John Entwistle, Michael Jackson, Southpaw, Moby Online, Layo & Bushwacka!,(accidentally deleted)
FOR JUNE 29-JULY 5 DAILY MUSINGS CLICK HERE (includes World Cup Final, John Entwistle's legacy, The Who's decision to carry on, the meaning of July 4)
FOR JUNE 22-28 DAILY MUSINGS CLICK HERE (includes World Cup diary, Dr. John, Doves, Mermaid Parade, John Entwistle's death, Timothy White's death, Clinic Firewater and Radio 4 live, The Who's decision to carry on)
FOR JUNE 15-21 DAILY MUSINGS CLICK HERE (includes World Cup diary, Liars live, GiantFingers, the Big Takeover)
FOR JUNE 8 -14 DAILY MUSINGS CLICK HERE (includes World Cup diary, StellaStarr*, Jose Padilla, Dee Dee Ramone, suicide bombings)
FOR JUNE 1-7 DAILY MUSINGS, CLICK HERE (includes World Cup diary, Southpaw, Six Foot Under, Andrew Sullivan)
FOR LATE MAY DAILY MUSINGS, CLICK HERE
FOR MAY'S EIGHT DAYS IN A WEEK'S MUSINGS, CLICK HERE
FOR LATE APRIL LONDON MUSINGS, CLICK HERE
FOR EARLY APRIL MUSINGS, CLICK HERE
iJamming! Site Copyright Tony Fletcher 2003