By: Ann Marie Svilar
Nada Surf & Birdmonster :: 09.03.08 :: Great American Music Hall :: San Francisco, CA
"If you don't want to do a label then you have to be willing to do a lot of work without a lot of money," Birdmonster says in an interview from New York (seen here). "It's definitely a great way to go," they continue, "but it's definitely a labor intensive way to go." Both Nada Surf and Birdmonster are bands that have mostly chosen this route.
|Birdmonster by Kristie Shanley|
The four Birdmonster boys were wearing skinny jeans when they walked out into the beating lights and red and gold painted intricate architecture that gives the Great American such a cool vibe. They stood onstage about to play for what was primarily a tame, sort of preppy, semi-hip Nada Surf crowd that had made it to the Great American before sundown to catch Birdmonster's opening set.
Birdmonster is Peter Arcuni (guitar/vocals), Zach Winter (drums), Justin Tenuto (bass) and David Klein (guitar). They are an indie rock band that isn't going to blow your mind with their guitar playing, but the composition of Birdmonster's songs can impress even the naysayers. They've got their finger on the simple, but they also take risks. In a music-land full of bands that find their formula and stick with it, Birdmonster puts a toe into multiple genres. Some of their songs can be defined as rock, some as folk and some even have (dare I say) jammy moments.
Birdmonster's half hour set was fairly straight-forward with few moments of slower pace. Most of the time, it felt like we were in the fast lane rather than curving a winding highway. Their intention was probably to rock the place out because they only had a half hour, but one more ballad here or there would have been nice because they're good at them. Birdmonster hit the stage at high speed, Tenuto jerking to the music, a permanent smile on Klein's face, the audience was just getting into it and then the time just about ran out
"Do you guys want a rock song or a mellow song?" Arcuni asked. Of course the answer was rock song. "They always say that," he said, starting immediately into "Heart of the Dead," a high energy quick tempo song that consists of "oh, oh, oh" as the chorus set against basic chords.
Nada Surf is basically a pop band with a cool indie story. They had short-lived major label success in 1996 with a song ironically titled "Popular." When that failed they wrangled back the rights to the song and the album and have since been trudging along on what is the respected but tough road of independent musicians.
Props to a band that can play all night. Collectively Nada Surf filled up all of their two hours and then lead singer-guitarist Matthew Caws played an after-show acoustic set. Zach Rogue, a sort of Val Kilmer looking cowboy from Rogue Wave and the opener from the night before, sat in for a majority of the show playing mostly keys.
Respect to a three-piece band that still keeps show dates with one member missing from the band. Daniel Lorca was in Spain recovering from a leg injury and Jose Galvez sat in on bass. Galvez seemed like a natural and carried the torch well with an unassuming presence and tight, consistent basslines. Often the back-up singer for the trio, Ira Elliot's drumsticks became glow sticks during "Fruit Fly," a song that Caws said was about "being a little sloppy" and "bringing it all into the kitchen."
Nada Surf does what they do well, but their live show lacked. Many songs Wednesday night started with the guitar, and then the drums and bass added in a formulaic way, probably a result of the guitar player writing most songs, but still. I suppose in the pop world formulas are what become catchy and rope in audiences. Yet, two hours of often the same pattern starts sounding like two hours of the same songs after a while. On the other hand, songs like "The Fox" demonstrated their writing and lyrical capability. Dark and melancholy, it was a highlight and crowd pleaser. Nada Surf are well oiled musicians after playing together for years, but maybe jumping out of their box of familiar tricks would be worthwhile.
Both Nada Surf (dates here) and Birdmonster (dates here) are in the midst of national tours. Nada Surf's latest album, Lucky came out earlier this year. Birdmonster's latest album, From The Mountain To The Sea hit stores September 2.
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