April 15, 2010

Swim to Reach The Shop

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On Monday night, local coffee shop and tattoo parlor The Shop played host to a lineup that bloggers everywhere would be jealous of. The headliner and main draw of the show was buzz-band Surfer Blood, anchored by strong opening performances from tour mates Turbo Fruits and locals Family Portrait. The bands rocked an intimate show that let the audience see their power without all the pomp and circumstance of a studio recording.The first opener was Family Portrait, a ’60s throwback band from Rochester with a fuzz twist. Their lead singer, a mustachioed, side burned, slicked back soulster reminiscent of white boy surf music mixed with Elvis Costello, revealed their ’60s aesthetic, with a ballad proclaiming the universal “Wait, I can’t take no for an answer,” and one song in which the line “and I play the electric guitar” followed by the obligatory riff work. Musically, the band produced a sound that prided itself on intricate note work and song writing, while covered with heavy reverb.Nashville’s Turbo Fruits took the stage next and from their first notes established a sound that was raucous and wild, as well as incredibly thought out. This was evident throughout their songs, but probably most clearly when they asked the audience to choose a cover song for them, Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Bad Moon Rising,” or “Teenage Kicks” by The Undertones. Although the band played the Irish punkers’ classic 1978 single, the dichotomy of the choices revealed a hidden aspect of Turbo Fruits. They played clearly Southern music, à la CCR, but they played it with finesse and polish, hence The Undertones. All of their songs came from the same mold of pounding drums, screeching, soaring guitars and Southern storyteller vocals, where you don’t know what the singer is saying, but you want to.The headliner, Surfer Blood, is a living example of what can happen with a little luck and a lot of work. Although the West Palm Beach band has been together for less than a year (they celebrate the anniversary of their first live show on April 17), they still managed to pack The Shop on the strength of a reputation and a stellar debut LP, Astro Coast. The band came to Ithaca on the tail end of a 60 day tour, and over the past year, “we worked our asses off,” said lead singer/guitarist Jean Paul Pitts. To illustrate this change, the band spent last summer on their first East Coast tour “playing to five people a night,” said Pitts. “It was draining, financially and otherwise.” The work paid off though, as their 12 shows at last year’s CMJ earned them blog interest, while their work at SXSW paid off with a New York Times feature on the front page of their Arts Section. Add this to the band’s successes across the globe, from a sold out show at New York’s Bowery Ballroom to a European tour (Pitts cites Koko in London as his favorite venue to play), and it becomes clear that Surfer Blood is the definition of a band on the rise.If their LP is a triumph of the studio, with effects masterfully masking the mere $200 it took to produce, their live show is an ode to the immediate visceral pleasures of Surfer Blood’s music. While Pitts’ vocals are calculated and precise on the record, on stage he gives into the moment, wailing lines like “I won’t wait around” with his eyes clenched shut. Every word comes out with new meaning and clarity, as Pitts spells out lyrics that got lost in the reverb of the band’s recorded output. From the opening notes of the set, as the band played album opener “Floating Vibes,” the sound aesthetic was clearly different: immediately rawer, with a heavier bass and more distortion. While it lacked the polish of the studio, the stripped down sound did away with any distance that may have existed between the band and audience on the record.Comparing Astro Coast to Monday’s show, it makes sense that the majority of the current band had little input on the record, joining Pitts and drummer TJ Schwarz after recording had wrapped up. The band is open to experimentation from all the members though, said Pitts, as “our live show is constantly evolving as we come across new parts.” From the feedback gunshots on “Harmonix” to the new chipper percussion work on “Swim,” it was clear that each Surfer Blood show is a unique experience.While Pitts does credit a lot of the band’s success to hard work, he also knows the music is intrinsically good. “We always knew that if people listened to the music, they’d like it,” said Pitts. “We just didn’t know it would be this quick.”

Original Author: Peter Jacobs