St. Louis, for being a centrally located city with a variety of quality venues, gets the shaft on a number of solid tours. Bands go straight to Chicago for a few days, or they stick to the college towns such as Lawrence, KS or Columbia, MO. (At least we get Nelly for free next month, right?) The upside of this sad reality is that when a show such as Nada Surf and WATERS pops up at the Old Rock House for a random Monday in June, people will show up in droves ready for a good time — and that’s exactly what happened last night.
San Francisco-based group WATERS kicked things off, completely shedding the fuzz that defined their lo-fi debut Out In The Light in favor of a tightly-executed, passionately delivered set that felt like a headliner’s. Frontman Van Pierszalowski’s caricature-esque facial expressions neared excessive as he thrashed about the stage, but when paired with his enthusiasm in chatting with the audience between songs, it became clear the band was simply that excited to be playing in St. Louis for the second time in three months. Weird, I know. Highlights of the 40-minute romp through Out In The Light included an extended version of “San Francisco”, the college radio favorite “For the One”, and an encore-like, acoustic version of “Mickey Mantle” with a crowd-sourced chorus – the last of which showcased Pierszalowski’s oft-shrouded voice naked of reverb and fuzz, with results so impressive the band should look into that as an option for future recordings.
Thirty minutes later, Matthew Caws & Co. nonchalantly strolled up to the stage through the crowd, wine glasses in hand and spirits high. Within the first five minutes, they blasted through the two opening tracks off their latest LP, The Stars are Indifferent to Astronomy, and anybody who came expecting a low-key evening of contemplative, indie-light flair was proven completely wrong. With ex-Guided By Voices guitarist Doug Gillard playing lead, Nada Surf’s live show has a presence that completely transcends their recordings. The adventure lasted two hours, navigated seamlessly through seven records and tallied in at 24 songs, and the rabid fans relished every second.
The band carefully applied the newfound edge and aggression of The Stars… to the classics – namely heavier, jam-friendly versions of “Blizzard of ’77” and “Paper Boats”. Let Go, predictably, got the most airplay with seven songs, and “Electrocution” represented 2010’s if i had a hi-fi well, with Caws taking the time to laud the original songwriter. The set list spanned two decades yet flowed flawlessly. Daniel Lorca’s deep bass anchored the potentially awkward transitions and backing vocal harmonies aided by drummer Ira Elliot added a nuanced sweetness to the sometimes-curt vocals of Caws.
Despite some heavy moments, Caws’ interactions with the audience and demeanor were contagiously light. Littered with self-deprecation for being too chatty, invitations to drink and chat with the group afterwards, and endless praise for WATERS, the man couldn’t quit smiling. Why should he, though? Twenty years later, the band’s still touring extensively, delivering live performances that trump the quality of any of their LPs — yeah, life’s pretty good for Nada Surf these days. No wonder “Blankest Year”‘s life-affirming chant of “Oh, fuck it! I’m gonna have a party!” got the three-peat treatment to close out the evening. No complaints here.
Photography by Will Hawley.
Clear Eye Crowded Mind
Waiting for Something
What is Your Secret?
Jules and Jim
(Your Legs Go started, cut off)
Blizzard of ’77
When I Was Young
Do It Again
See These Bones
The Way You Wear Your Head
Blonde on Blonde
Inside of Love