Three rock show in three days isn’t a hard thing to do. It’s an awesome thing to do. Yet, there was something about this particular Rock ‘N’ Roll weekend that kept me from the Little Bighorn LP release show on Saturday night. That something was late night tequila. It was a great idea at the time. And chasing that tequila down with Sirancha and pickle was a great idea, too. Unfortunately, it was also the idea that left me couch-bound for much of Saturday. Still, I have a lot to talk about from Nada Surf and Japandroids. Let’s start…
* I’ve Always thought of Nada Surf as a solid, although not always exceptional power pop band. One with unlikely staying power, to be sure. One that was once destined for one-hit wonder tv shows on vH1 and tough answers on trivia night, that has become now a respected touring band. I never thought of Nada Surf as a rock band.
* Then came Doug Gillard. The former Clevelander who has lent guitar work to Gem, Cobra Verde, Guided by Voices and Death of Samantha local, has added a new element to the band. Often times through the night, I scribbled down words like “rip” and “gritty” and “filthy,” not words I would have ever associated with Nada Surf, the recorded band. Tonight songs like “The Way You Wear Your Head” and “Hi-Speed Soul” and “See These Bones,” were polished, pleasant, catchy and yes, filthy.
* Also of particular interest to Cleveland rock aficionados, was Nada Surf’s cover of an old Bill Fox song, “Electrocution,” a song they worked into the set-list especially for this show at the Beachland. Since Fox returned from the musical wilderness a few years back, there’s been a renewed appreciation both for his work as a solo artist as well as his time spent in the influential Cleveland power pop band, The Mice. Tonight, hearing “Electrocution” provided the rare answer to those who have wondered what Fox’s career would have been like had he not traded rock for folk back in the ’90s.
* Coincidentally, Gillard also recorded with Fox on an unreleased album dating from ’91. My best guess is that this would have been an album by Radio Flyers, Fox’s short-lived follow-up to the Mice.
* I did catch the last two songs of Nada Surf’s in-store at Music Saves. It was crowded. It was hot. And the stripped down version of Blizzard of ’77 with just Matthew Caws (vocals/guitar) and Gillard (guitar) on acoustics and Ira Elliot keeping time on a box, was memorable for its sheer beauty in spite of those uncomfortable conditions.
* Early on during Japandroids sold out show Friday night at the Grog Shop, guitarist/vocalist, Brian King expressed how he was glad to be back in Cleveland, and apologized to the fans that it took so long for them to book a return gig. In a separate anecdote, he would relay how he and his sound man play this volume game practically every night. King wants louder. Sound man, concerned about sound, would prefer things to not sound so distorted. King won the Cleveland battle.
* In the back left of the club, everything was muddled. One friend compared it to being at an underwater concert. It was a little better rear center and rear right. I could never get front center. The Grog Shop was sold out and packed. The one place where I did experience pristine sound, however, was in the loo. Who wants to take in a show from the Grog Shop loo?
* While sound quality may have been an issue for those who wanted to hear a rock show, those who took in the fuller experience by raising their cans for every chorus and shouting along with every “Whoa” and every “Oh” didn’t seem particularly bothered. Hey, it was a Friday night and this Vancouver duo who play classic rock anthems with punk rock spirit, are a perfect band for those who want to bury the work week with beers, buds, and Rock ‘N’ Roll.
* Even from the back of the bar, where all one could see was the top stack of King’s big stack of amps, the tips of David Prowse’s drumsticks, and King’s hair flowing in a permanent breeze it was easy to get lost in their feel good rock. A separate patron compared the feeling of a Japandroids show to that of being a 14 year-old at the Warped tour. There is a strong element of escapism in their music. Women got you down? Here’s some loud chords and some “Whoas.” Concerned about your future? Oh, let’s do more loud chords and more “Whoas.” Before you know it, you, the person who found the perfect sound in the loo, is raising your can, too.
* As for highlights, it’s difficult to pick out any songs that stuck out. Sure it was good to hear some of their more popular tracks like “Boys Are Leaving Town,” “Young Hearts Spark Fire,” “Night of Wine and Roses” and “House That Heaven Built,” but that sound. Again, I hate to keep harping on the sound, but it really was one big, and very loud, garbled mess of a mix. Every guitar melody was bulldozed and flattened to the point where they would became indistinguishable from the next. Brian, and I’m using your first name because everyone is buds at a Japandroids show, when your sound man says it’s too loud, listen to the man. He knows sound. That’s why he’s the sound man.