There’s nothing like a real rock and roll gig: four guys; a lot of sweat and hair; simple songs about girls and drugs and booze. On a windy Wednesday night in Melbourne, Florida’s Surfer Blood played an old school, back-to-basics set of real rock ‘n’ roll to a crowd that came for nothing less than that.
For Pythons, their sophomore album, Surfer Blood collaborated with Gil Norton, famed producer of seminal early alternative rock and post-punk albums with Pixies and The Triffids. Tonight’s gig highlighted the development and maturation of the music, and showcased the more polished sound they have achieved. Their music is decidedly lo-fi, taking garage rock sensibilities and drenching it in reverb to land at a final product reminiscent as much of ’90s dream pop as it is of the surf rock their name alludes to.
Unassuming and down to earth, the four young Floridians showed some serious instrumental chops as well as delivering a passionate and engaging show. Their guitarist, the ever-smiling Thomas Fekete, is an astute and technically gifted axe-man, validating Surfer Blood’s reputation as a great guitar band. The rhythm section, band funnyman TJ on drums and Tyler Schwarz on bass, didn’t miss a beat and were as tight as any band I’ve seen. Front man John Paul Pitts (who goes by the uber-American ‘JP’) were much more varied and dynamic than you might imagine from their records, and his mostly clean and crisp vocals were underpinned by careful use of a guttural scream on a few tracks.
Playing a mix of songs from their critically acclaimed 2009 debut Astro Coast as well as Pythons, Surfer Blood also previewed a few brand-new songs, to the delight of the many die-hards in the crowd. Highlights were their breakout song Swim, an obvious fan favourite met with a hearty roar of approval, and another classic Miranda, a rolling rock tune that reminds you of their immediate ancestors like Dinosaur Jr or the Smiths.
The set was punctuated right in the middle by a towering and nuanced performance of Astro Coast’s Carribean-tinged rocker Take it Easy, with the good-natured frontman alighting from the stage to mingle with the crowd, shaking hands, hugging and dancing with the exuberant audience for a good eight minutes. His good cheer was infectious, and rarely has a crowd at the notorious hipster den of the Corner been so littered with toothy smiles and easy-going laughter. Overall, the less-slick tunes from Astro Coast translated much better to the live experience, though some of the tracks from Pythons feeling a little bit underdone.
“Simplicity,” Da Vinci wrote, “is the ultimate sophistication.” Bands like Surfer Blood – unpretentious, genuine and self-aware – can provide some of the best live experiences, even if their discographies are solid rather than spectacular. It may be a cliché, but it is a certain truth that bands who enjoy themselves are more fun to watch. Surfer Blood have that in spades, and that’s what makes them so endearing.
PHOTOS: Surfer Blood – Corner Hotel, Melbourne 24/07/2013