Live Reviews

Surfer Blood @ Barfly, London

10 December 2010


For those that thought hype was an end in itself, see the year 2010. This year hasn’t just been the year of the hype band, it’s been the year that the hype got hyped. Some of it has been deserved, some of it premature. Most of it, of course, is misplaced. But then hype never said it was perfect. Most hype bands evaporate before the average observer has even had the opportunity to buy into the buzz.

But 2010 was different. Even casual music fans could name a good handful of bands that were getting the kind of coverage agencies are paid millions for. And it was spread around. Noise pop. Chillwave. Surf. Scenes were either invented, revived or reborn as nostalgia-happy mutations made to blend with the new landscape. And all of it got hyped. And hyped. And hyped.

Surfer Blood got bitten by the hype, too, but they survived. How to escape the music industry sharks? Well, put one of the toothy predators on the front cover of your debut record, of course. Oh, and make sure you get the songwriting down, too. Due to some abysmally lazy name association journalism, the Florida natives got lumped in with bands like Best Coast and Wavves.

But surf pop provided a better umbrella term for those bands that actually stemmed from surfing’s spiritual mecca (the California coast). Surfer Blood’s impressive debut, Astro Coast is really more an homage to ’90s indie of no particular geography. Sonic Youth, Pavement, Guided By Voices and Built To Spill all have debts owed. Dashes of surf reverb and jangle that help soften the album are merely that.

Unlike their music idols, who’d often take to the stage disheveled and anxious, this band, and particularly its confident lead singer, John Paul Pitts, look totally in their element. Coming off the back of a tour with Interpol, the band seem glad to be back in more intimate surroundings and with a more supportive audience. Perhaps they are just happy to be nearing the end of a long stint on the road. Which wouldn’t be that surprising.

Looking at their completely creaseless faces, homesickness would probably set in if the tour went on any longer. “What’s that drink that tastes like aniseed?” asks Pitts to the crowd. The crowd aren’t particularly helpful. Some mock the Florida freshmen, who are clearly enjoying a bit of legal liquor on this side of the pond. “Sambuca! It’s awesome! I love that shit!” announces Pitts, with a blush and a smirk.

Thankfully, the kids on stage don’t come over all obnoxious. In fact, there’s something quite charming about the band’s Seth Cohen-light frontman. It’s hard to say whether this is due to his pretty voice that has more range (and power) than expected, and clearly has yet to fully mature. Or maybe it’s his banter, which largely involves thanking the crowd for its support and a few impossibly innocent relationship-breakup stories behind the songs.

Whatever it is, it’s clear that with his bashful-confident thing, Pitts is a pretty obvious Brandon Flowers sequel in the making. After the initial pleasantries are done with, the band roll out Astro Coast, loud and proud. Single of the year contender, Take It Easy, a majestic Swim and a crunching, extended version of Anchorage leave Camden’s Barfly buzzing, and its audience of a few hundred believing in much more than a load of hype.


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More on Surfer Blood
Surfer Blood – Snowdonia
Surfer Blood @ Barfly, London
Surfer Blood – Astro Coast
Surfer Blood @ Garage, London


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