Big Thief, Bird Of Youth
Wed, June 1
Doors: 7:00 pm
Nada Surf - (Set time: 10:00 PM)
Having recorded five albums in ten years and toured extensively in support of all of them, Nada Surf — singer/guitarist Matthew Caws, bassist Daniel Lorca, drummer Ira Elliot and guitarist Doug Gillard (now official fourth member, more on that later) — opted to follow 2012’s cracking The Stars Are Indifferent To Astronomy with a brief but well-earned hiatus.
So in January 2015, when Caws informed Nada Surf’s vociferous Facebook following that a new record was just about done, the news was greeted with explosive enthusiasm. The music was in the can, he announced, and all that remained was to finish up a few lyrics and sing a few vocals; something he planned to do on off-days off during an upcoming solo acoustic tour. Caws even included a photo of the recording set-up he was bringing in the car.
“I was so eager to have an album done that I believed in it as it was,” Caws recalls. “But the great thing about being 'finished' is that you can take a breath and evaluate, because the pressure to 'do it' is gone. The more I listened and thought about it, the more I realized that I might want to keep working. Also, I'd sent the tracks to my friend Josh, who runs Barsuk Records, the label we’ve been on since 2002, and he said 'It's great,' but followed that with a pregnant pause. I got the message. I didn't take that as a critique as much as a belief that I could do better. It was very freeing,” Caws continues. “There were already a bunch of songs in the can that we all liked, so I could think more expansively about what the album could be."
Caws’ instinct to heed his inner editorial voice proved to be spot on: he dropped a few songs, tweaked others, and wrote a few more that, “definitely feel different from what we’ve done before,” he says. “Believe You’re Mine” was rejiggered and sped up, while “Cold To See Clear” – originally penned for a collaboration to be named later with Michael Lerner of Telekinesis – was deemed a better fit for Nada Surf. Just before starting You Know Who You Are, Caws had gone to Los Angeles to write with Dan Wilson, who in addition to his success with Semisonic, has won two Grammy Awards for his songs with Adele and the Dixie Chicks. They weren't writing for anyone in particular, they just wanted to see what would happen. Caws felt so good about “Rushing” and “Victory's Yours," that he asked Wilson if he could include them on the new Nada Surf album. Wilson gave the green light, and even offered to contribute backing vocals. When the band returned to Hoboken, NJ for another round of sessions with producer/guitarist Tom Beaujour (Jennifer O'Connor, Amy Bezunartea), the songs were tracked.
And lo and behold, what would have been another really good Nada Surf album (their seventh since getting signed to a major in the go-go 90's and scoring a worldwide alterna-hit with “Popular”) became what could well be the most representative collection of the group’s two-decade career, all while pushing towards whatever comes next. While the band has always had a surplus of horsepower for velocity rockers and an astounding level of confidence live, they've been gaining the discipline and finesses to change gears, more so with each release. Captured in the album’s 10 tracks is every beloved facet of the band, but You Know Who You Are also finds much on offer that stands apart from anything previously heard in the band’s diverse catalog. “Animal” is a stream-of-consciousness Dylan-by-way-of-the-Stones existential love song, while “Gold Sounds” somehow manages to be equal parts Krautrock and folk rock. The latter track had its genesis in a South By Southwest queue as Caws made small talk with a fellow gig-goer who turned out to be General Manager at St. Louis’ independent, non-commercial KDHX. Caws was standing with sometime touring Nada Surf keyboard player and occasional mixing collaborator Louie Lino, now running Resonate Studio in Austin. "Maybe we should make you a jingle,” Caws suggested.
“If you do, we’ll play the shit out it!”
Unable to resist the challenge, Caws and Lino banged out a classic radio theme song for KDHX Program Director Chris Bay’s weekly “Gold Soundz” broadcast. The tune snuck into band practice and then morphed at the Nuthouse from a 30-second ditty into something else altogether, thanks in large part to Elliot's hypnotic beat and the “wild twinkly magic” contributed by Gillard. "I still don't understand how he did that," Caws says. "It’s like Zeppelin flutes played by a unicorn." “Gold Sounds” serves as an ideal reminder if one is required that Caws might be the tunesmith and man up front, but Nada Surf is now and has always been very much a band.
“I may write the songs," Caws says, "but we put them together together.”
Some of the new sonic diversity must be due to Gillard's ever-growing presence, touring with the band since 2010, but a newly official fourth member. While he recorded a lot of overdubs on the last two albums, this time Doug was involved from the first practices onward. Known for his vaunted chops and keen melodic sense, honed as a member of such iconic Ohio outfits as Guided By Voices, Death of Samantha, and Cobra Verde, Gillard adds spark, heft and heightened interplay to Caws’ personal, prismatic songcraft, making a sound that was already melody-rich and hook-filled even richer.
After taking a detour with 2013's Minor Alps collaboration with Juliana Hatfield, his first after thirty years of writing songs, Caws has returned as a writer more willing than ever to follow wherever his gut takes him. Nada Surf are chasing their own worlds, their own kind of connections with listeners. “Sometimes it feels like, to our audience at least, we are two or three different bands at once,” Caws concludes. “It seems some people are looking to feel better, for encouragement getting over their obstacles, for help figuring life out… not that I've done that myself, other people are looking for love songs, and then some others just want to rock.”
You know who you are… Before, Nada Surf albums simply took on the character of the songs that the band came up with at the time. This one was different — there was a plan. "We've always played faster and a little harder live," Caws says, "but we'd play so carefully in the studio. So with this album, we made a conscious decision to preserve what it felt like in the practice room, when you play with that new-song energy. Just embrace it and not worry whether we’re overdoing it, kind of get all the thinking out of the way."
The stars has a somewhat more optimistic, more outward-looking tone than previous Nada Surf albums. On the yearning waiting for something, Caws sings, "This new peace/ I can feel it now," and that serenity — and not anger — is actually what fueled the music's extra kick.
The stars are indifferent to astronomy continues the notion of music as an alternative reality, and songs as things you can keep by your side for inspiration and support. Which is what makes Nada Surf a truly beloved band.
Big Thief - (Set time: 9:00 PM)
Big Thief's music, rooted in the songs of Adrianne Lenker, paints in vivid tones "the process of harnessing pain, loss, and love, while simultaneously letting go, looking into your own eyes through someone else's, and being okay with the inevitability of death," says Adrianne.
Masterpiece, Big Thief's debut album (Saddle Creek), is filled with characters and visceral narratives, songs that pivot in the space of a few words. Adrianne's voice and guitar playing speak of rich emotional territory with grace and insight. In her words, the record tracks "the masterpiece of existence, which is always folding into itself, people attempting to connect, to both shake themselves awake and to shake off the numbness of certain points in their life. The interpretations might be impressionistic or surrealistic, but they're grounded in simple things.
Adrianne met her longtime musical partner, guitarist and singer, Buck Meek, in Brooklyn a few years ago, and they quickly formed a creative bond tempered by the experience of traveling and performing for months on end in old dive bars, yards, barns, and basements together. They recorded a pair of duo albums (A-Sides and B-Sides), and Adrianne showcased her songs on a solo album, Hours Were The Birds.
Now, as a full rock and roll band, with Buck on guitar, Max Oleartchik on bass, and James Krivchenia on drums, they bring a steady wildness, giving the songs an even deeper layer of nostalgia. "These guys feel like a pack of wolves at my back," says Adrianne, "they make the songs howl and bark with a fierce tenderness that gives me courage."
After spending last July in an old house that they turned into a studio on Lake Champlain with producer Andrew Sarlo, the resulting collection soars on what Big Thief fan Sharon Van Etten calls "… a real journey, with intelligent stories and twist-and-turn melodies."
Bird Of Youth - (Set time: 7:45 PM)
Did you ever want to burn down your whole life? Just burn the fucker right down to the ground and start over all over again?
On Bird Of Youth's wrenching and inescapably gripping new full-length Get Off, Brooklyn-based singer/songwriter Beth Wawerna arrives, matches in hand, at a life perched on ruin.
Following on the heels of 2011's debut Defender, Get Off is the second album from Bird Of Youth, released after five years of tribulation, tragedy, missteps and false starts. Midway through the process of rendering the follow up, Beth's father unexpectedly passed away, sending her into a spiral of self-doubt and self-destruction. Some wretched person once advised "eat, pray, love" as the prescription for a life gone off the rails. Bird Of Youth proposes something more like "drink, drug, fuck."
Get Off's ride is at once harrowing and exhilarating, fraught with the wreckage of lost youth and lost life, long narcotic nights and dreams hanging in the balance. From the Imperial Bedroom-style confessional snapshot of "Passing Phase," to the unstoppably catchy kiss-off "Sons & Daughters," to the psychedelic strung-out/freak-out of "Burn," Get Off is both reflective and reactive – a trial by ordeal and self-realization through personal annihilation. As a document of a single season in hell, Get Off is reminiscent of similar breakthrough-by-way-of-breakdown albums like Big Star's Sister Lovers and Harry Nilsson'sPussycats – albums whose total vulnerability both draw you in and leave a bruise.
Whether she's daring to be great or daring to be gone – lashing out or looking in – the high stakes of Beth's songs never feel less than fully engrossing. Like Joan Didion set to the beat of The Pretenders, Bird Of Youth's late night tales seduce you with fantasy and send you home chastened but satisfied. With lines like, "She fakes for dates and they take the bait but she makes them wait for old time's sake / She hates, she breaks and then she leaves," Beth sketches shattered characters that you earnestly root for as they grope through the void for the thing that will fix them – even if it's just a fix. Reflecting the tough dealing of its author, Get Off is both a first person account from an island of grief and the halting first steps towards a new beginning.
This is Bird Of Youth's first release since signing to Kiam Records alongside critical favorites Jennifer O'Connor and Amy Bezunartea. Delivering on the promise of its predecessor, Get Offrepresents the full flowering of Beth as a singular voice. Abetted by stunning arrangements from lead guitarist, co-producer and main collaborator Clint Newman, crackerjack performances from the rhythm section of Johnny North and Ben Lord and expert mixing from John Agnello (Sonic Youth. Kurt Vile, Breeders) and Phil Palazzolo (Ted Leo, Neko Case), Get Off is a sonic triumph commensurate with its emotional impact.
815 V St. NW
Washington, DC, 20001
815 V St. NW
Washington, DC, 20001