– Academy 3, Manchester –

Nada Surf

Nada Surf

The last time Nada Surf was in Manchester in March 2020, the world was on the edge of a precipice. In the days after, the band cut short their tour as the country entered lockdown indefinitely.

In the two years that followed, it was hard to imagine gigs without risks, masks and rules. I even told myself that if gigs disappeared altogether, at least I went out on Nada Surf.

With recent experience of how sharply the rug can be pulled on normality, uncertainty still lingers. But welcoming Nada Surf back tonight, nine months later than originally scheduled, feels like a circle has closed and some form of stability has arrived.
Standing in Academy Three once again as they take to the stage makes it seem like nothing has changed. And yet nothing is the same.

In many ways, this echoes Nada Surf’s ethos. This is a band that thrives by staying true to a pop-rock-punk sound forged in the fires of the early-to-mid 90s. But they also never rest on their laurels.

As they weave songs from their unique mix of feelgood poppy threads and edgier, angst-soaked riffs, lyrically, they prod and explore the issues that loom around our reason and identity in these uncertain times.

For example, it must take some guts to sing ‘Mathilda’ in a room of middle-aged Northern men. The track resonates harder than ever in 2022, questioning inherited gender roles and highlighting the “special hell that we built for ourselves […] handed down in homes and playgrounds”.

Glimmers of subversiveness also show in the breakneck, part-spoken-word ‘Something I Should Do’, perhaps an homage to Bob Dylan, but with contemporary teeth.

The rest of the set is almost identical to 2020’s, which is no bad thing for appeasing a faithful fanbase. However, this leaves little room for material from ‘The Stars are Indifferent to Astronomy’, ‘Lucky’ and ‘You Know Who You Are’. The set also lacks a cover, not that it needs one, but with 2010’s astounding ‘If I had a Hi Fi’ in the wings, maybe it’s a missed trick.

The likes of ‘Hi-Speed Soul’, ‘Killian’s Red’ and ‘Popular’ are delivered with an energy that blows away the inertia of nostalgia and flexes the timeless qualities of the band’s earlier material.

Although they’re setlist regulars, ‘See These Bones’, ‘Friend Hospital’ and ‘Do It Again’ never fail to impact and prove the Caws/Lorca/Elliot songwriting nucleus is among the best out there. It’s hard to imagine a more eloquent and optimistic reconciliation with struggle than “maybe this weight was a gift, like I have to see what I could lift”.

Responsive as they are, the band rises to the challenge of playing ‘Come Get Me’ live for the first time ever, after an Americana UK gig review slapped their wrists for not airing it. While we’re on the subject, it’d be quite something to see the criminally underrated ‘Rushing’ live – just planting a seed here.

Although veterans of Academy Three, a few sound-related hitches dog the band during the set. Caws explains that sound bounces off the venue’s low-hanging beams and makes what happens on stage sound very different on the floor. During some of the taxing high pitches, Caws also uncharacteristically hits a few off-notes, maybe a result of this discrepancy.

Nada Surf @ Academy 3

Nada Surf @ Academy 3

The curveball of the set is an acoustic bolt-on of ‘Blizzard of 77’. Perhaps their most candid track, it hits hard and achieves the feat of getting Mancunians to hush one another as the quartet drop their instruments and stand shoulder-to-shoulder on the edge of the stage. What results is a disarming finish, galvanising the band’s intimate connection with a their thoroughly moved, delighted and maybe slightly tearful crowd.

This bond with their audience is one of Nada Surf’s calling cards in 2022. It’s common to see 90s bands on the reunion tour circuit, playing vacuous venues and peddling nostalgia.

What’s rarer is seeing the whites of an artist’s eyeballs as they chat mid-set and catch up with gig-goers over the merch table. With Nada Surf, that end-to-end appreciation and rapport with their fans comes with the ticket price.

A gig some of us doubted would ever come, tonight brings a genuine, passionate and affirming performance from Nada Surf – a band you could as easily fall in love to as break a bone to.

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