Say Hi and Nada Surf Rock Sold-Out El Rey

At the sold-out El Rey on Oct. 22, Brooklyn-based Say Hi to Your Mom opened for underground indie-powerhouse Nada Surf.
Feeling young at this particular show, the concert-goers at the El Rey, could be placed in two categories. Without fail, there were Los Angeles hipsters, always to be found at any Los Angeles show with semi-underground indie bands, especially those connected to the hip concert throwers, KCRW.
The other demographic on this evening was the 30-something yuppie crowd, who have followed the careers of veterans Nada Surf, some of whom may even have interest in younger, newer bands like Say Hi.
An hour after the doors were opened, Say Hi began their set, featuring singer, guitarist and songwriter Eric Elbogen leading a band of his friends on drums, bass and two keyboards.
‘It’s interesting to see people’s perception of touring with a rock band. ‘Where’s your bus parked?’ [they ask]. The reality is that we are in a tiny cramped van all day long and we’re lucky to come out with enough money for rent,’ Elbogen said a day before the show over the phone.
This type of disparity in young bands is understandable, even a bit romantic, in that bohemian sort of way. It is also characterized by Say Hi’s music, which mixes a rawness in the vocals and choppy guitar chords with the flashiness of keyboards and effects.
Elbogen also represents the unabashed love for writing and performing music through his work ethic and method of production. Elbogen writes and records all of his original work, the latest release of which, ‘Ferocious Mopes,’ was recorded almost entirely in his Brooklyn apartment.
‘If I’m working on a record, I’m doing 12-hour days, for many days at a time,’ Elbogen said. ‘I do tend to do a lot of writing. But I use the recording process as a tool for writing/arranging. It’s draining, I like it maybe more then [playing] live.’
Elbogen’s realistic view on being in a band, one in which he recognizes the ups and downs, says more about how much he enjoys his job. He is quick to point out how his love for writing and recording often alienates him from a normal social life.
‘I’m always writing songs. But when the times comes, when I’m recording all the time, my friends start to hate me,’ Elbogen said.
Say Hi translates well in a live setting. They are the type of band who’s generally low-key, but because of some significantly slower songs, the upbeat tunes seem particularly energetic. Elbogen’s quiet yelp works well with fuzz distortion guitars mixed with the clearer keyboard parts.
The crowd received the band moderately well, transitioning from a quiet curiosity to enthusiastic attentiveness.
This was, however, no match for the response for the New York-based headliners, Nada Surf. Their opening song, ‘Blizzard of ’77,’ also the first track on ‘Let Go,’ featured lead singer Matt Caws singing alone with his guitar. Fittingly, this led into their next song, ‘Happy Kid,’ with the whole band, also the second song on ‘Let Go.’
‘They’re the nicest guys in the world. They play for two hours every night and sound perfect,’ Elbogen said.
This is exactly correct. For fans, lead singer and guitarist Matthew Caws’ voice, with it’s high but calm sense of longing, gives the live experience with Nada Surf a semi-religious feel. Everything great about Caws’ voice on their CDs is amplified in quality and emotional resonance.
This band may not be for everyone, but for anyone that enjoys Nada Surf’s music, the live show is more satisfying that any fan could imagine. A three-piece that sounds full is always refreshing. This band truly exemplifies that notion, in which all three members of the band sing, pulling off perfect three-part harmonies.
Back in 1995, Nada Surf had a hit song on MTV called ‘Popular,’ which sent the New York-based band to minor stardom with their first LP. Afterwards, their sophomore release, ‘The Proximity Effect,’ did not do as well here in the states while gaining substantial praise over in Europe. In 2003, the band released ‘Let Go,’ an album which stayed beneath the radar in terms of radio and MTV, but gained massive critical praise and a large underground following. Their most recent release, ‘The Weight is a Gift,’ (2005) has continued to ride the band’s quiet wave of success.
The extensive set list at the El Ray featured songs mostly from ‘Let Go’ and ‘The Weight is a Gift,’ as well as a couple from ‘Proximity Effect.’ In a surprise move, they ended their second encore with ‘Popular,’ a song they rarely, if ever, play live.
It is interesting to see two bands of a similar genre play the same show at drastically different points in their career. While Say Hi has the potential for healthy career ahead of them, Nada Surf represents what every underground band wishes to achieve. They have a decade of work put in, during which they honed their craft, made a living and still managed to avoid too much artistic compromise.
At the end of the night, a almost four-hour show with only two acts, everyone was more than satisfied by veteran Nada Surf and newcomers Say Hi.