Sunday, April 4, 2010

Surfer Blood at Detroit Bar, 3/28/10

Living in Southern California brings with it many perks: Mexican food; the weather; the beach (if you're into that kind of thing); Mexican food; In-N-Out; Legoland and, of course, Mexican food.  But perhaps the best thing about living here is the abundance of concerts constantly taking place within driving distance.  I don't even know how I'd adjust if I moved somewhere more isolated; I can deal with a slower pace, but where's my live music???  And sometimes you don't even have to drive to LA or Pomona or San Diego, because sometimes buzz bands make stops in little bars like Detroit in Costa Mesa.  (I was once lucky enough to catch Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Liars and Jon Spencer Blues Explosion there right before YYYs blew up, but now I'm just bragging...).  This was the case last Sunday, when Surfer Blood showed up in Orange County.

Surfer Blood is one of those bands that I'm usually wary of, and for good reason.  If the music publications are trying to out-superlative each other to praise something, I'm always standing at the ready with my snarky anti-hype backlash.  In this case, I've been pleased to keep my venom holstered, because these guys are good.  Their debut, Astro Coast, is not without its flaws, chief of which is loose songwriting.  Many songs go on too long or not long enough, or have musical interludes that don't go anywhere.  But the catchiness of the melodies, and especially the guitar work make up for a lot of sins.  This is a band whose heart is in the 90's, which seems appropriate since most of the members were born just before that decade; the stuff that I came of age with must seem like classic rock to them.

When they took the stage, their age really hit me.  Or maybe it was mine.  As I watched them I kept flashing back to my friends' bands from high school, and I felt very old.  But Surfer Blood has a dorky charm that's hard to deny.  Lead singer John Paul Pitts didn't bother to speak to the crowd much, other than to tell us we were great, but he played confidently and with an unselfconscious sense of groove that I really respected.  Yeah, he may have looked goofy when he got into it, but he clearly didn't care.  Percussionist/keyboardist Marcos Marchesani kept reaching up from the tambourine and cowbell he was hitting in an attempt to push his glasses back up his nose or move his considerable hair out of his face, but he didn't miss a beat.

The songs hit a little harder in some places, but I admit I was disappointed that Pitts didn't go for some of the high parts from the record, and the vocal reverb that is such a part of what makes the album good was missed as well.  They made up for that, though, by extending some songs with more excellent guitar work.  "Take it Easy," which I like to think of as "The song Vampire Weekend wishes they could write," really benefited from the extra attention, adding an extended guitar solo that fleshed out the somewhat monotonous ending from the record.  "Harmonix" was longer too, and the anthemic "Swim," my personal favorite, was every bit as rousing live.  Despite my wish that he had stretched his voice a bit more, Pitts' singing was very strong, especially when he reached down for a good yell.

When you have only one album and succeed so quickly, live sets tend to be limited, and this was no different.  They played eight of the ten songs, which didn't even take forty minutes.  But just like the record it was a spirited ride, leaving us wanting more, and showing a lot of promise of what's to come.

Set list: Floating Vibes / Take it Easy / Harmonix / Twin Peaks / Fast Jabroni / Anchorage / Swim / Catholic Pagans

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