Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Surfer Blood at the Santa Monica Pier, 7/11/13

Coming of age musically in the 90’s inevitably makes me extra nostalgic for the sounds of that decade, and I’m hardly alone. There’s something about remembering the days when “popular music” and “good music” were the same thing that warms our generation. And if you were to write some sort of mathematical equation to represent that feeling, the solution would absolutely be Surfer Blood.

Now, that’s not to say that they’re so calculated as all that, but their clear worship of bands like Pixies and the once-great Weezer naturally creates a vibe that hits a nostalgic soft spot. Throw in their name and this is a band ideally suited to a warm summer evening, which may explain why they kicked off this year’s Twilight Concert Series at the Santa Monica Pier.

As free concerts go, this one was a fairly large production. The stage was located up on the actual pier, but the real party was happening on the southern side of the beach. A sea of blanket and wine-wielding humanity had taken up residence on the sand, watching the band on a giant screen. The whole thing had a Coachella-at-the-beach feel to it, including the diminishing returns on the sound quality out in the throng. After the opening chords of “Floating Vibes” lacked the punch that makes Surfer Blood stand out, I left the party behind and made my way up onto the pier. Even up close, the sound left something to be desired, burying the signature guitars too deep in the mix in favor of drum and vocals, but it was a definite upgrade.

Though they’ve only just released their second record, Pythons, Surfer Blood come across as a band that has been around for ages. Some of that may be the flashback nature of their material, but their first album Astro Coast was one of the most assured debuts in recent memory, full of earworm riffs and irresistible choruses. They wisely played most of it, eschewing much of Pythons, which lacks a standout track on the level of “Take it Easy” or “Swim.” The former came around the halfway point of the set, busting through the obstacle of the soundsystem and kicking the band into another gear as singer J.P. Pitts climbed down into the crowd to let them sing along. (During the chorus someone got close enough to the mic to let out an exuberant “duh nuh nuh nuh nuh nuh nuh” to match the song’s memorable guitar line. I couldn’t see from where I was, but I’ve chosen to believe it was Pitts himself.)

“Swim” closed out the main set, predictably eliciting the biggest reaction of the night from the crowd with its pounding drums and unstoppable singalong chorus. Everyone around the stage cried out “Swim to reach the end!” and I did my best not to breakout my most embarrassing air guitar routine, and the night could have ended right there. But after a brief break they came back with a vengeance, tearing into the Fugazi-esque instrumental freakout of “Neighbour Riffs” before closing with the deep cut, slow-build gem of their library, “Anchorage.” “I don’t wanna spin my wheels,” Pitts sings, and as it crescendoed into a noise guitar jam and nostalgia gave way to new memories, it became clear that despite a somewhat listless sophomore effort, Surfer Blood’s passion is still intact.

Set List: Floating Vibes / Twin Peaks / Say Yes to Me / Demon Dance / Miranda / Voyager Reprise / Catholic Pagans / Take it Easy / Gravity / Prom Song / I’m Not Ready / Fast Jabroni / Weird Shapes / Swim

Encore: Neighbour Riffs / Anchorage

Photo by Riley Carithers,

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