I spend, oh probably more time than I should volunteering for things. These things are mostly (read: pretty much all) music related. The one particular head scratcher for people is my time spent on the Barsuk Street Team. One of my long time favorite (active) labels, Barsuk has been something that I've contributed to for about a year and a half now. In fact I probably owe most of my being able to shake off the social anxiety, stand alone at shows in this slightly intimidating neighborhood, and actually talk to people who are much cooler than me to my status with the Barsuk Street Team and the late (sniff) Sea Level Records. However, that is another story.
Generally though, what I hear when I tell people that I volunteer my time to hang posters for a record label is this, "They don't even give you gas money?" To which I say, "No I get free cds and access to guest list privileges for any of their band's shows." They then look at me like I am insane. Truth be told I sometimes feel insane for devoting so much time to a non-paid service myself. Especially since I set my own work hours, tend to be very lazy, and often do street team stuff when I should be working on projects that I am getting paid for.
Then I find myself in a situation like the one that I found myself in on Monday night, and I realize that it is all so very worth it. So very, very worth it. I was asked to help work the door at an extraordinarily intimate acoustic Nada Surf show. It was mostly for music supervisors so my job was essentially to drive Nada Surf's bass player Daniel back to their hotel so that he could pick up his laptop, check in the 30 or so people that were on the guest list, then watch what is certainly the best show that I've seen so far this year. Of course, that's an easy call since we are only a month into 2008. However, I think this one will stay pretty high up there as the year carries on.
Let's start with the sound in this room. It's a tiny space tucked away in Beverly Hills that serves as a show room for Gibson guitars so automatically you know that this is a place is designed to make music sound good. The equipment must have been top of the line because everything sounded so pure, and all of the levels were perfect. Of course it always helps if the band in possession of all these advantages is already a top notch band. Nada Surf are plenty more than just a top notch band. I've long been in awe of how they pull off their perfectly constructed, filled to capacity, but never over the top pop songs. How well written these songs are both lyrically, and musically. The fact that they feel immediately familiar, but never predictable. And those harmonies, oh wow those harmonies. If Nada Surf were one of those bands that only worked in a studio setting one would likely be able to forgive them. I'm not a musician, but I can imagine that it's virtually impossible to pull off that kind of pop song as impeccably in a live setting. Nada Surf do. Of course nothing sounded just like it does on record, this being a relatively stripped down set and all. Somehow that made it even more impressive. They had a cellist join them who played the most interesting looking cello that I've ever seen. It was made almost entirely out of metal, and had essentially no body, just a long neck, and a stand. I would say it was the coolest instrument of the night. However drummer Ira Elliott was sitting on, and playing a very nifty Afro-Peruvian instrument called a cajon which is essentially a box that you can play like a drum! Imagine someone playing the bongos, if that person were actually sitting on the bongos, and if the bongos sounded more like a snare drum. He also made a makeshift kick drum by wearing a tambourine around his foot. I would say that's seriously fucking innovative, but I get a sneaking suspicion that this is a secret that a lot of drummers are in on. Me? I'm not a drummer so I thought it was cool (and seriously fucking innovative.) Daniel Lorca, and Matthew Caws stuck to standard bass and guitar respectively. Everything sounded great. They mostly played songs from the new album (which is still my favorite of 2008 so far by the way) as the crowd was mostly made up of music supervisors, and the point of the evening was mostly have the new songs heard by the people who will put the songs in the commercials. And the songs should be in the commercials. One of three non new album songs was actually their relatively big 90s single "Popular," which was introduced as "So this evening is 98% fun, 2% something else cause we got a call from our manager the other day saying um, at that show in L.A. could you guys play Popular, and remind them that it's never been licensed..." So they were incredible sports and launched into the distorted guitars, wry spoken word lyrics, and just overall NINETIESNESS of it all. And they did commit, I will give them that... And the thirteen year old girl part of me was kind of into it, you shouldn't give me that...
They closed the night on the more serious note of new album opener, "See These Bones." Shockingly enough where I would have expected an entire roomful of jaded, arm- folded, hip people clapping politely after this, I instead heard cheers, and saw that most everyone was smiling. If that doesn't offer you enough proof of their overwhelming goodness, I don't know what possibly could.