The night of the Nada Surf concert, I felt like I was coming down with the bird flu. I really felt terrible. So, naturally, I was in a bad mood and ready to tear apart some mid-’90s indie pop has-beens and their weak opening band.
Say Hi to Your Mom was unimpressive. As I sat down in the comfy chairs of the Aladdin Theater, I noticed that not a single person in the crowd in front of me was moving to the opening band, and neither was anyone on stage. The energy coming from the band was practically nonexistent, and aside from a guitar solo or two, the songs played out exactly the same as the record. The calm was dramatically shattered about halfway through the tepid set. A high-octane heckler, who had previously been taunting the group with fart noises, boos and chants of “You suck!” decided he had finally had enough, and ran up through the crowd. Upon reaching the stage, he promptly smashed a Say Hi To Your Mom CD on the monitors. The band stopped, lead singer Eric Ellbogen seemed confused by the action and engaged in a short dialogue with the heckler, who reaffirmed his opinion that the group sucked and said that he wanted to “shake things up a bit,” which he did. But unfortunately the taunts didn’t spur Say Hi to Your Mom to new heights. They continued their lukewarm, competent set of somewhat generic-sounding indie pop to its conclusion. However, the heckler did inspire many of the Western-shirted 30-year-olds in the audience to lavish accolades on the group and menace the heckler with threats of bodily harm for expressing his opinion.
The ruckus soon died down and Nada Surf took the stage after setting up mirrors above the drum kit, giving everyone a view of the back-of-the-drummer’s-head. To their credit, Nada Surf played the show like professionals, gently raining reverb and occasional surprisingly good guitar solos on their doting audience. They were tight, comfortable, and played long enough to give people their 15 bucks worth, although I would have paid that to see the heckler. The bassist slunk around the stage chain-smoking, tossing his dreadlocks like he was hot shit, which was a little weird. He sang a song all in French with a raspy, gravelly voice that everyone seemed to love. The Western-shirted guitarist wouldn’t stop talking about how nice Portland was, and how great everyone is here, which is probably easy for him to say because he doesn’t live here. He bantered well with the audience, and was pretty entertaining, save for one incident. He summoned a friend of his onstage to play her cellular phone ring, which was an “Office Space” quote about that one guy’s stapler. Come on, Nada Surf. What is this, 1999 before that joke became so old that it’s actually painful to hear? And what’s more is that the group insisted on working the lame bit of dialogue into their songs! But you wouldn’t know how bad it was by the crowd, which went absolutely ape-shit over the joke. In short, they were better than I expected, but not as good as I wish they were. Beyond that, though, Nada Surf had the talent and sound that will probably net them “alternative gold” status in about 15 or 20 years. But the best part was the heckler.