March 1, 2010
Great Scott, Boston
When was the last time you witnessed a teenaged Floridian play a guitar with his mouth? Those attending Surfer Blood’s most recent show saw that and other wonders: two drum kits and five musicians squeezing onto a stage designed for flea circuses, and the re-emergence of the cowbell as a rock instrument. Simply constructed, tightly orchestrated, and featuring two prominent, over-amplified guitars that reject the “lead/rhythm” stereotype, Surfer Blood songs — specifically “Swim” and “Fast Jabroni” — evoke the Pixies at their very best on Doolittle (1989). Whether this influence is direct or inherited through their unabashed Weezer-worship is hard to say. Driving their similarities with Weezer home, Surfer Blood strummed the first 4 bars of “Sweater Song” during the encore, only to stop abruptly and mock the crowd for its gullibility.
Though the similarities to older bands abound, Surfer Blood differentiates itself from its musical predecessors in several ways. A five-man lineup, Surfer Blood sports a three man front and two drummers: the first a standard drum-kit pounder, the second a talented percussionist responsible for extra drums, cowbells, keyboard, maracas, and a series of other noisemakers that augment Surfer Blood songs. It eradicated white noise and provided an all-together, fuller sound than most other pop-fi bands muster.
Playing all ten songs off their album Astro Coast (2010) and two ill-rehearsed new tracks, Surfer Blood displayed tremendous musical talent, stretching the studio versions of their songs into longer, louder, showier variations of themselves. Of particular note was the six-minute rendition of “Take It Easy,” featuring a wonderful guitar solo and adorable camaraderie between the bands lead singer and the guitarist as they pushed their foreheads together for several moments, reveling in large crowd’s enthusiasm and applause. Lapping up the applause of the young hip-looking audience, the lead guitarist felt confident enough to display a little technical mastery like playing his guitar backwards, upside down, and one time, with his mouth.
Surfer Blood is composed of freshmen from the University of Florida. Although clearly talented, one can still see their relative inexperience on stage in the tangled chords and inability to establish a rapport with the audience. Surfer Blood also still struggles slightly with their slower songs, a trait frequent among young bands: Their ballads fall short of the high bar set by their up-tempo tracks. Sometimes bands like Surfer Blood, having not yet developed a slow-tempo style of their own, try too hard to imitate the very best of the genre, and end up biting off more than they can chew — brazening their way through a song that should have been played by Stephen Malkmus or Thurston Moore. Comparing their slow and fast tracks seems unfair as their fast songs are so effing good, but mastering the art of the slow song might save them a sophomore slump. (No pun intended.) That being said, no band develops without trying new things, and if any one band could recreate a Pavement song, my money would be on Surfer Blood.
“The last time we were in Boston, there were three people” complained the drummer to Monday night’s sold out show. I don’t know if the observation is strictly true, but Surfer Blood’s meteoric rise in popularity is a fact. Critically acclaimed and well-timed to enjoy to resurgence of lo-fi rock in popular music, Surfer Blood has legs. Their success is made even more incredible when you remember that they are from Florida. After some [read: very little] research, the last good bands to come out of Florida were Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, preceded by the Allman brothers. We’re talking a good band every couple of decades.
I spoked with the guitarist briefly after the show, and he promised a new EP in the fall. I hope that’s true, because I’m wearing out the MP3s on my computer listening to Astro Coast over and over. I’ve got to have more cowbell, and Surfer Blood is my number one source.