Nada Surf @ Academy 3, Manchester, 13 Mar

The indie-rock stalwarts squeeze in one last career-spanning masterclass as the walls close in on their European tour

Live Review by Joe Goggins | 18 Mar 2020
  • Nada Surf live at Gorilla, Manchester

In the face of mounting odds, Nada Surf have been battling gamely on.

As swingeing lockdown measures began to take hold across the continent towards the back end of this European run, the indie-rock stalwarts were increasingly finding themselves needing to think on their feet to keep the show rolling on. In Paris in midweek, faced with having to cancel two sold-out gigs at the 1400-capacity La Cigale as the French government banned gatherings of more than a thousand people, they successfully split the crowds by playing two shows a night.

They’ve made it onto Manchester via London, and tonight is all systems go – perhaps they knew there’d be ample scope for social distancing at a half-full Academy 3. That represents a fair drop in attendance from their last appearance in town, an epic at Gorilla in April 2018, where they courted the nostalgists with a front-to-back run through their 2002 classic Let Go. Tonight, the focus is instead largely on February’s Never Not Together, the group’s ninth full-length.

The New Yorkers are closing in on their 30th anniversary and even casual listeners should know what to expect from them by now; melodic guitars and earnest lyricism, the precise kind of musical profile that made alt-rock stars out of them, and a number of their peers, around the time that The O.C. took off in the early-to-mid-noughties. Still, it’s hard to think of anybody who does it better, and frontman Matthew Caws seems to have hit a rich vein of songwriting form over the course of both Never Not Together and 2016’s You Know Who You Are.

It’s probably no coincidence that this revival has run parallel with Caws marrying and settling down; some of his warmest and most endearing work has sprung forth, including tonight’s opener, the bright and breezy So Much Love, as well as the pleasantly wistful Looking for You and the gorgeous, cloud-parting Cold to See Clear. The new material reframes the old, with a run through the entire catalogue, from big-hitters (Inside of Love, the sprawling See These Bones) to deep cuts (Looking Through, the punky fizz of Hyperspace).

John Vanderslice, making a rare appearance on this side of the pond and having delivered a sterling solo set in support, joins the band for Just Wait to kick off the encore, as the sense that this might be the last show for a while for both band and audience sinks in. The closing one-two of Always Love and Blankest Year – the latter with its refrain of 'oh, fuck it! I’m gonna have a party' – feels tailor-made for the occasion. Here’s to the next one – whenever it is.