What with this being Rough Trade East and whatnot, there’s no room for an elephant but it certainly feels as though there’s one lingering around the Americana section this evening, such has been the seismic impact of the accusations levelled at Surfer Blood’s epicentral John Paul Pitts. The most pertinent inquisition, therefore, is now not only how such a widely reported incident should be allowed to affect the band as an eight-legged entity, but so too how the nonliteral Nelly aforementioned may inhibit their performance and our perception thereof.
This was always going to be a tough crowd, or perhaps it would’ve been were there much of one: it’s an instore first and foremost, and it’s a disparagingly overcast, thus generally dreary Tuesday afternoon of a distinctly monochromic June. And as such, the show instantly assumes a disquietingly self-conscious tone which, all the more intriguingly, seems to transcend the resolutely focal Pitts to infect his fellow band members.
All of which contributes to a truly perplexing atmosphere which is only exacerbated by the initially scant turnout (as Surfer Blood grow in confidence, admittedly their audience discernibly swells accordingly); the meek and continual stream of effusive thanks; the dreaded instore effect. It’s to be expected, and yet it remains unprecedentedly odd. I mean they air nine songs – some old; others lifted from their newly released sophomore effort, Pythons – and Pitts must exhaustingly utter the immortally mawkish: “Thank you all for coming” idiom after each and every last one. It’s articulated with exponentially increasing relief though whether that be due to the fact that the songs themselves bring an if not irrevocable, then incontrovertible sense of redemption, or purely because the show steadily approaches its conclusion with the expiration of each remains unclear.
Though to revert to the music, as the Floridians doubtless wish we all would a little more readily these days, even Astrocoast opener Floating Vibes has a defeatist timbre to it. “When you wake up in the morning, and you hear that awful applause” Pitts grimaces and you sense that it’s precisely this which he’s now fully anticipating at their every gig. It’s thereby rendered that bit more bittersweet and indeed wistful than ever before, but it’s when they deign to risk considerably more recent material that proceedings turn slightly more fraught still.
The inherently indolent Prom Song, during the chorus of which Pitts repeatedly sneers: “I just can’t be bothered”, makes for a pretty tricky listen. “You tell me things aren’t fair/ Like I was unaware/ So who told you, you could change your mind/ And run back when the stars aligned” he begins again confusingly, his in many respects naïve words provoking a self-explanatorily uncomfortable reaction. Though musically too, snaky pieces from Pythons wriggle around us awkwardly: Gravity resonates with the gleeful agelessness of Weezer, inclusive of dual geetar solo shtick, and so too the lackadaisical Slow Six perceptibly recalls My Name Is Jonas while Demon Dance positively shimmies to the tune of The World Has Turned And Left Me Here. But it’s thus an unmistakable power-pop derivative for the most part, and with it being so brand new and the band still jet lagged, there’s the odd banana-skinned slip-up here and there, too.
However it’s when they themselves slip into their more weatherbeaten numbers that Pitts et al. win us back on over: most notably Twin Peaks, an ode to the serial drama’s two complementary originators, has gathered gusto since last heard like, well, a bit like a wave of adulation, really. It’s the lynchpin of the evening – that which holds the show together, and again reels us in. Indeed positively effervescent, the same can be said of Swim. They’ll doubtless themselves be thankful to have reached the end, and the dramas will doubtless dwindle to a trickle of insignificance with the ebbing of time. But for the time being, they’d best roll with the proverbials as they do so valiantly this evening…