Magness Lake, in Heber Springs, is a magnet for swans
Arriving at 9 p.m., we secured spots on the front row, just in time to see the first opener, Jealous Girlfriends, break down their set-up. A bit dejected, we didn't have to wait long before Delta Spirit made it all better with a rousing nine-song set. The San Diego-based five-piece captivated the near-capacity crowd, even winning back those who'd made the between-set decision to step outside for a smoke. Opening with a stirring rendition of “St. James Infirmary Blues,” front man Matthew Vasquez wailed with Waits-ian conviction while his band mates banged furiously on their instruments. Their earnest, aggressive delivery produced an enthusiastic and entertaining show.
On “Trashcan,” the multi-instrumentalists took turns pounding away at the drums, keys and a trash can lid. At the band's most frenzied state, a bass drum crashed to the floor and a mic stand fell into the thrilled audience. The short, intense set left us feeling energized and ready for more.
At 10:30 p.m., Nada Surf took the stage against a black backdrop with sparkling blue lights, reminiscent of the night sky illustrated on the cover of the band's latest album “Lucky.”
Bassist Daniel Lorca's blonde dreadlocks bounced as he beat out the bass line to the first song, “Hi-Speed Soul.” While Matthew Caws' vocals were capable enough, the crowd gleefully lent their support, shouting lyrics and hurling fists into the air. A quick peek at the set list revealed we had 24 more songs ahead of us. Caws' face glistened under the hot lights. Lorca shed his leather jacket and tied up his hair. With drummer Ira Elliott, the trio looked much older than their 18-and-up crowd, but each possessed more style and enthusiasm than all of the trendy teens combined, proving that, yes, they've still got it. They're just as relevant and hip as ever.
Early on, we got a rare performance of “Treehouse,” a song from Nada Surf's first album that they had to relearn before playing live. Next up, the trio offered back-to-back songs from “Lucky.” On the pop-rocker “Weightless,” Caws asked us to help him out with the song's ending. We gladly joined in on the sing-along, assisting him with a series of high-pitched “ah-ah-ah-ah-ah ahs.” For “Whose Authority,” much like “I Like What You Say” and “Beautiful Beat,” the trio accelerated the tempo, playing hard and fast, which translated into danceable numbers for the hyper crowd. Even when they slowed things down on “Inside of Love,” the band kept us into it by teaching us to two-step, side-to-side. Other oldies included “Zen Brain” and “Popular,” which the audience proudly recited word for word. Requests for “Blonde on Blonde” and “Always Love” were answered by the end of the night. Among the highlights were skillful interpretations of “See These Bones,” “The Fox” and “Killian's Red,” during which the band was drenched in red lighting.
The bond between artist and audience was strong throughout the two-hour set, especially on the fan-favorite “Fruit Fly.” Closing with “Blankest Year,” everybody let loose and chimed in on “Ah, fuck it! I'm gonna have a party.”
It's safe to say nobody expected a two-hour, 25-song set, but the band played like old pros whose uplifting melodies and catchy choruses are timeless. Engaging us in every song we'd hoped to hear, Nada Surf sent us shuffling out into the cold November night feeling warm and happy, humming songs to ourselves into the early-morning hours.