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Review: Surfer Blood

Surfer Blood, Crescent Ballroom, show review, review, Surfer Blood review

Words by Paula Tesoriero and Colin Carter.

Andy Boay’s cosmic set began seemingly out of nowhere. One minute a vaguely David Spade-meets-Mac Demarco character walks onstage with a pop star over the ear mic, completely unbuttoned shirt, and menagerie of electronics and the next minute he’s asking the buzzing crowd, “Are you ready to die tonight?” He then proceeded to use his mouth to create very deep bass music “wubs,” before stopping himself to assure the crowd: “Just kidding, let’s party.”

How’s that for a hello?

Andy Boay, Crescent Ballroom, show review, Surfer BloodWhile it’s perhaps most famously quipped that “the dream of the 90s is alive in Portland,” last night at Crescent Ballroom the “dream of the 90s” was assuredly alive for Surfer Blood and Team Spirit! Of course, if any time travel was involved in the process, it was thanks to opening act Andy Boay.

Boay’s set was more perplexing than anything. A majority of the sounds came from his own mouth, harmonizing, looping, droning, shouting, and distorting his emotions untethered of pop structure or, for the most part, instruments. He did pull his guitar into the mix, but his spattering of notes and brief melodic riffs seemed to serve more as interludes and guest appearances to his experimental psychedelic vocalizations, if anything. Perhaps it was sensory overload from the nonstop music and psychedelic projections, but the crowd remained rather transfixed through the entire set, with barely a moment to breathe or ask their friends if they’re really seeing what they’re seeing. His set ended as unexpectedly as it started, with Boay cutting off his own mic, and singing an intimate folk number over an amped electric guitar, shouting to be heard. The whole experience felt a lot like picking up transmissions from various cultural influences, from minimalist to folk, punk and pop stylings but never settling on one frequency, so the whole transmission left a feeling of mysteriousness and schizophrenic tension. Just another night at Crescent, I suppose.

Now that the crowd was sufficiently awake, Team Spirit took the stage, and brought a Team Spirit, Crescent Ballroom, Surfer Bloodcharisma and bombast to the evening. Before playing a note, frontman Ayad Al Adhamy (ex Passion Pit) began striking up conversation with a man in the front row about the glory of mustaches (they both had similarly styled ones). Unamused by back-of-the-venue lurkers, he sarcastically quipped that he’s shortsighted, so they better move to the front and dance. The set weaved in and out of crunchy guitar rock, grungy power chords, and peppy-power-pop choruses. Adhamy’s friendliness really pumped up the crowd, leading one drunk audience member to have the time of his life… very vocally… to which Adhamy only had “right on, man!” to say. The band was tight, the riffs were gnarly, and a good time was seemingly had by all. Standout track “Fuck the Beach” perfectly set the angsty, sunkissed tone for the headliner, its “Dancing in the Moonlight” hook crooned as well as any surf-influenced garage act I’ve heard. By the end of the set, Adhamy let loose in the crowd, literally motioning the crowd to their knees, only for the finale to build into a cathartic mosh pit of hipster dance-jumping, joy and energy: quite the sight indeed!

Totally Reasonable Team Spirit Monitor Request: “Can I get more teenage angst in my monitor?” — Ayad Al Adhamy

Finally, the moment arrived for Surfer Blood to take the stage. While not as chatty or cathartic as Team Spirit, Surfer Blood brought a sense of control and carefulness to its set to contrast with the out-of-control exhilaration of its opener. Surfer Blood seemed more like a well-oiled machine than any sort of jam band; they were more like a live jukebox of hits than a bomb waiting to explode, and that delighted everyone just fine! Playing a set both old and new, crowd favorites were songs like “Miranda,” which brought a majority of tweens and adults’ heads alike to bob, “Swim,” and “Demon Dance.” Watching the members play feels something like watching a group of high school friends jamming in a basement, unphased by the ideas of what rock bands are supposed to act like.

Surfer Blood, show review, Crescent BallroomWhen singer and guitarist John Paul Pitts said thank you after a song, he seemed legitimately humbled at the response to his music, and he deserved it. Even through the screaming and walls of fuzz, an innocent and vulnerable human element was always there to ground Pitts and his bandmates. Of course, that never stopped them from rocking our socks off, and why would it? It was drummer T.J. Schwarz’ birthday, so of course they brought the party, especially for encore numbers “Catholic Pagans” and “Anchorage.” Guitarist Thomas Fekete even played the guitar with his teeth in a spirited solo shred!

And that’s really the kind of night it was– a party of peppy hooks, dirty guitars and a kind of optimism that may be a bit lost in a scene where it’s all too cool not to care. But care these three acts did, and in a desert perhaps in need of a few more palm trees and oasis, it was quite a refreshing Thursday!

Totally Reasonable Surfer Blood Monitor Request: “Can I get some more Pink Floyd’s “The Wall” in my monitor?” – Thomas Fekete

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