Surfer Blood are at the most perilous stage in any young band’s career: the second album. Released on Monday, their new record Pythons has all the hallmarks of a success; major label backing (Warner Music), a world-renowned producer (Gil Norton) and a few years touring with the likes of Pixies and Foals.
However, their image took a beating (pun acknowledged, and apologised for) last year when singer John Paul Pitts was arrested for domestic battery. Though the charges were dropped, there remains a sense of unease surrounding the group. Additionally, the new record, with its deeply personal lyrics and cleaner, more consistent sound, threatens to alienate those who got into the band for their raw energy and anthemic songs.
So tonight, as the band push through the crowd and onto the stage at the Sebright Arms in Haggerston, there is a feeling of nervous anticipation. Though sold out, the audience don’t seem to be head over heels in love with the band. I look around periodically, and most people are simply watching; not singing along or dancing, but simply assessing the performance. This is understandable; much of the set is brand new material, and so many people had probably not got to grips with the new songs. There was one – there always is – slightly demented woman in the front row who looked as if she was performing some sort of pagan ritual whilst hollering out every lyric, but nearly everyone seemed to look at her with an air of concern.
However as the set goes on some real highlights began to appear. ‘Swim’, the stand out song from their debut, Astro Coast, is reverb drenched and thrillingly intense, whilst new cuts ‘I Was Wrong’, ‘Gravity’ and ‘Needles and Pins’ highlight the band’s new-found musicianship and melodic sensibility. The encore, however, felt unnecessary and slightly cringe-worthy given that during the interim the band couldn’t leave the stage but merely mulled things over in the front row.
Despite the occasional shortcoming, the show felt like a positive step for the band. What was most promising was the confidence with which they presented their new material, and the warmth with which it was received. This wasn’t a night to bring the house down but simply one that will have brought many of their fans more firmly on board. Surfer Blood have been taking some tentative steps towards success over the past few years and tonight it felt like, if luck may have it, they can catch a big break.
Pythons was released on June 11th 2013 through Sire, a subsidiary of Warner Music.