Surfer Blood at Clubhouse Music Venue Last Night

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Surfer Blood
The Clubhouse Music Venue
September 27, 2010

Maybe you remember 'the bear thing' or 'the wolf thing,' those peculiar eras when seemingly every hotly-tipped indie band adopted one of those ferocious animals as a component of its name? Of course you do.

Probably you've noticed we're currently in the midst of 'the beach thing,' whereby bands like Wavves, Best Coast, Beach House and Surfer Blood slip some reference to the seaside into their names?

While the mechanism by which bi-coastal indie band naming conventions -- like the colors of popular consumer goods -- are informally set for the season is not yet fully understood, we can observe that it's a little pathetic and it tends to reinforce the knee-jerk opinion of outsiders (read: modern rock radio listeners) who figure indie kids are just a bunch of annoying wanks in big round grandma glasses and woolen hats who like music that's more trendy than good.

For that reason, it's sort of a shame that Surfer Blood, a Florida five-piece that played Tempe's Clubhouse Music Venue last night, has the handle it does. It's currently cool inside the indiesphere, sure, but casual listeners might have trouble distinguishing between the band and the half-dozen like-named acts their trendsetter friends say they just have to check out.

"Is it Surfer House or Wave Coast I'm supposed to listen to," they might say as they pull up Pandora. "Eh, screw it, I'll just listen to the Cake channel."

That's a shame, because those people would really like Surfer Blood.

Not because they're trying to score cool points, mind you, but because Surfer Blood sounds a lot like Old Weezer. And if there's anything anyone who ever has or ever will listen to radio stations branded X/Edge/End can agree on, it's that Old Weezer is awesome. In fact, Old Weezer is so great that Contemporary Weezer isn't touring in support of their brand-new album, Hurley, instead electing to hit the road playing two of Old Weezer's records.

Sure there's a little Vampire Weekend/Graceland Afro-beat styling thrown in Surfer Blood's stellar debut Astro Coast (to think, we said dashiki rock wouldn't last a year!) but that's mere garnish.

Surfer Blood has the Surf Nerd (thank you, Rivers Cuomo, for inventing that concept) image down pat. From the classy plain white guitars (worn high, with the bottom at the belly button) to the references to obscure television programming ("Twin Peaks") it's all there. Cherubic singer John Paul Pitts even sported the same soft-hue plaid shirt and khakis Cuomo now favors. He also bounded into the crowd for the final track of the night just like Cuomo did two weeks ago at Fall Frenzy. Lasers and bubbles were a nice touch of showmanship for a band touring on its first record and hint at bigger things to come. Also: the band just signed to a major label. Who does that anymore? Ambitious guys like Surfer Blood who want to be more than just indie famous, apparently.

But the really cool thing about Surfer Blood is the way the band captures that same sense of clean-cut, vaguely-geeky bliss Weezer did in their prime. It came out most clearly in "Floating Vibes," where Pitts seemed charmingly self-conscious during the guitar solo. You could read, "Wait, does this look cool or not?" in the thought bubble above his head as he squirmed around strumming the chords.

Same with the funny little spins and exaggerated deep-voice refrain on "Catholic Pagans," flourishes he appeared to ad-lib after the crowd started an impromptu clap-along. It was the best song of the night, along with "Swim," the single, which predictably got the loudest reception from the crowd upon being offered with appropriate intensity.

Speaking of getting the crowd riled up: The encore started with Pitts doing a solo version of the Guided By Voices song "Game of Pricks," much to the delight of at least one area man. The fact that he pulled something like that off bodes well for a band like this.

At least until Pitts starts fetishizing Asian women, complaining about his lonely life at an Ivy League college and hitting the hashpipe.

Critics Notebook:

Personal Bias: I'm generally opposed to artists cribbing 90s sounds -- but Surfer Blood does it respectfully and with creativity. Unlike, for example, the Smashingsun Pumpkinups.

The Crowd: "Brooklyn, Grand Street / Four flights, late nights / Black socks, white dice / Ten pounds, loud sounds / Turned up, tied and bound."

Overheard in the Crowd: "Nice shirt!" some guy yelled sarcastically at one point, having not gotten the memo on old man fashion.

Random Notebook Dump: "I've got a lot of things to do and a lot of places to go -- lyrics to?"

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