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Surfer Blood, live at Scala, 9th March 2011

March 16, 2011

Surfer Blood’s debut album, Astro Coast (released in January 2010 on Kanine Records) somehow slipped under the twlt net with regards to last year’s top albums. But we’ve since been converted (with many thanks to j-diz), and it’s fair to say Surfer Blood falls right into the territory of the things we listen to here at… thingswelistento. So it is with little surprise that myself and three other twlt authors jumped at the chance to see Surfer Blood live at London’s Scala.

Surfer Blood – Floating Vibes

Scala, just a stone’s throw from London’s Kings Cross St Pancras station, is a pretty decent live venue with a capacity of just over 1000 and quite good sound quality as I previously found out when I saw Field Music there last year.  The first thing I retrospectively notice is that Surfer Blood were missing one of their two drummers. Apparently I’m not fanatic enough about them to know who is in the band. Although from their hipster popularity you might think otherwise, when they took to the stage they looked like one of the most unassuming and average looking bands I’ve laid eyes on.

‘Floating Vibes’, the album/gig opener, came across well, and along with the following song ‘Twin Peaks’ immediately revealed that whilst on the album the vocals are calm and somewhat restrained, lead singer & guitarist John Paul Pitts is able to push his voice to an earthy baritone, filling the room and captivating the audience. ‘Harmonix’ followed, and true to it’s name and album counterpart the boys drenched us in reverberating twin harmonics from the two guitarists. Next up was a song I consider one of the album highlights, ‘Take It Easy’. It was pretty good, and being the most upbeat song yet got the crowd moving. The sound in Scala was pretty good, and the cowbel-infused drums sounded nice. But it didn’t go unnoticed that Surfer Blood had already fallen prey to one of my biggest gripes about live guitar music: lead guitar syndrome. As soon as John Paul stomped on his distortion pedal, the rest of the sound was lost beneath the way-too-loud guitar, and indeed even without it the cute little guitar licks from lead guitarist Kevin Williams at the end each (appropriate) pre-chorus line “and we’ll both be sorry” were almost unheard beneath the other guitar. I was also kinda expecting an extended ending to this one, which didn’t come. Here’s the considerably better album version.

Surfer Blood – Take it Easy

Next they touted a new song (possibly from their upcoming I’m Not Ready EP), which was loud and noisy, straining Pitts’ voice to the max. He was pretty much screaming. ‘Catholic Pagans’, the album closer, came next, and (along with the previous song) was the low point of the night for me.
However, no sooner had I expressed my distaste when the boys fired up with the only instrumental song, ‘Neighbour Riffs’, another example of how harmonising two guitars can sound wonderful. With the guitarists tied up in the Surfaris-esc riff, and later both fiddling with their delay and effects pedals, the bassist was allowed to show his bass-ing prowess, holding the song together with a fine bassline. The result was a delightful fast paced harmony driven tune. And I finally got the extended song-ending that I had already yearned for once that night.

On a high, they swiftly moved into another new one, ‘I’m Not Ready’  (definitely from their upcoming I’m Not Ready EP) this time much more upbeat and harmonious than the last, and in fact one of the highlights of the gig and no doubt a future hit single. Pitts then announced ‘Swim’ to be their last song,  and after a textbook rendition of their keynote single, the boys were off, having clocked in just over a measly 30 minutes.

A few minutes later they were back with an encore comprising of a new song, ‘Fast Jabroni’ and closing ‘Anchorage’ with a swirl of feedback, taking the gig time up to an almost respectable 45 minutes.

In conclusion, the gig was pretty good, let down only by lead-guitarist syndrome and slightly stale crowd interaction. Not bad for what must be one of the first world tours for this band; their young age was highlighted by repeated mentions that the night of the gig was also the 21st Birthday of guitarist Kevin Williams. With some good renditions of the album songs (and some good new ones to boot) and a powerful vocalist in Pitts, I eagerly await a new album from Surfer Blood, and hope they’ll be on the UK festival circuit this summer. The gig wasn’t the best I’ve been to, but it was worth it for ‘Neighbour Riffs’ alone. Check out a live version here:

Surfer Blood – Neighbour Riffs (live at Live at The Barfly, Camden, London, 10.12.10)

Note 1: I don’t usually like live youtube versions of songs.. but I thought I better throw one in!

Note 2: There were two support bands this evening. But I didn’t mention either, because I didn’t hear the first, and the second were crap.

[Lead image courtesy of The Line of Best Fit]

One Comment leave one →
  1. j-diz permalink
    March 18, 2011 1:01 am

    they are supposed to have 2 drummers? i never knew that…

    nice review bizzle. my 2 pence: i liked the gig, good but not great, though i doubt it will live long in the memory – no “wow” moments that i can recall. you’re spot on with the limited crowd interaction. always annoys me when a band doesn’t have a bit of banter, but then again they are just wee kids so i can forgive em. they also look way too polite to be in a band.

    i think they have a long way to go actually, and am really looking forward to whatever they release next. i just hope they can up their live game next time i see them.

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