Surfer Blood are the kind of band you end up arguing for in those age-old, only semi-legitimate terms: “They just have great songs.” The accusation you’re fighting is never that their songs aren’t great – it’s that they sound too straight-up rock, that the reverb thing is derivative, that there’s nothing exciting about them. But, counter to the process of over-thinking music though it is, with Astro Coast, you kind of just had to throw it on twice and let the hooks get you. They had me at a video of Swim from some gig last year.
They’re apparently someone’s idea of big enough to play the main venue in the Academy as well, even though upstairs wasn’t open and attendance on the ground was on the “smattering of people” end of “decent crowd”. In fact, just let me log that this gig in Crawdaddy would have had that much more atmosphere. But still, MCD booked Surfer Blood, presumably found it cheaper to put them on in their oversized barn than somewhere else, and set them up with an appalling support band, so that’s what had to be dealt with.
Planet Parade are, before we proceed, possibly the most inoffensive band in the world. They’re inch-perfect with their live performance, and 1.5 of their songs have hooks, but having done a bit of listening to them for the Trinity Ball Guide, I can’t help but denounce them totally, forever. Once their bassist stopped rocking out in the quintessential bassist manner hammily mocked by Paul Rudd in that Paul Rudd film, Surfer Blood came on.
These are young dudes, is the first thing. It’s strange, having been the obvious kid at gigs for ages, coming to the age where I’m seeing internationally hyped bands who look like we could have sat the Leaving Cert together. But so what.
The frontman, JP Pitts, comes across a touch rockstar in his affectations to the extent that you could legitimately call him a frontman, and you get the impression from the fact that he sings and does all the good melody lead parts on guitar as well that he is probably the artisan behind Surfer Blood. Also visually interesting onstage is Hadji Bakara Guy, who is a swarthy guy with an afro and facial hair whose primary job seems to be enjoying the music and playing occasional synth.
They pretty much just release, do it like they would in a garage, with the affected rocking out included. A week and a half off from touring left their drumming missing the occasional cue, charmingly, and the vocals, mostly ebullient sloganeering shouts, wavered from time to time, but it’s flaws like these that make the couple of beastly classic rock riffs they bust out so interesting.
It started at medium pace, but a pretty much straight up cover of Sweater Song by Weezer in third place on the setlist dragged the drunks to front centre and gave everyone else a peg to hang Surfer Blood off, given that it’s their first time ever in Ireland. College dudes who like Weezer. If having them on the same P4K playlist as posture-driven music caused any confusion, seeing them live allays that pretty much straight away.
It’s the first wave of 90s homage. They did another straight up, obvious 90s cover in their encore, Nirvana’s About A Girl. We’re only just about ten minutes into it being okay to do solemn homage to Beavis and Butthead, so it’s tentatively Surfer Blood are to be embraced.
But listen. It is about the balls-out slacker rock, what Vampire Weekend would have been doing if they were getting stoned and watching old episodes of 120 Minutes instead of attending Afro-Carribean Soc meetings. Twin Peaks, complete with the actual line “Twin Peaks and David Lynch met on your couch in Syracuse”, is undeniable, as catchy as any jock rock riff with 800 times the personality.
And Swim is Swim, despite the Nardwuar-discovered Eno rip-off inherent. In a parallel universe where the future’s paradigm is the same as the past’s, Swim would be Disc 1 Track 1 on Indie Rocks!: Rocking Hits of The Movement-less Internet Indie Generation. The drummer fucked his cue once and “got told” according to one of the band later, but it doesn’t matter.
Complaints? Well, it should have been louder. Maximum tolerable volume is desirable for this. Also, I would like to again complain about Planet Parade. And before the Weezer cover won over the folded arms in the crowd, they seemed a bit snarky. But they won through in the end. If this was in a full small room instead of a half-full big room, it might have kicked off properly, but for now it was just a solid rock show.
Addenda? I bought a t-shirt that’s the Unknown Pleasures cover art with Surfer Blood – Astro Coast written on it. Also have the Unknown Pleasures t-shirt. Now have two of the same t-shirt, but I look forward to potential conversations opening with “why does your t-shirt have the Joy Division album art but another band’s name?”