Nada Surf actually played “Popular”

This isn’t so much of a review of Monday’s Nada Surf/Rogue Wave/The King of France show in Tempe, Ariz., as it is a quasi-examination of a trend that Nada Surf – for better or worse – seems to somehow epitomize.

That said, I don’t want to minimize Monday’s performances. That was my first experience with Nada Surf live, and I’m really impressed at how seemingly innocuous pop songs translate into these powerful anthems on stage. On top of that, we were treated to two encores: the first about five songs and the second a closing dose of Blizzard of ’77.

But even more surreal was that Nada performed that blessing and curse of a song: Popular. Given the group’s fairly drastic shift in style since 1996’s High/Low, I guess I had just sort of assumed – incorrectly, it appears – that the group disavowed that song.

In all honesty, I like Popular. It’s a good song with a timeless message about the social caste system of high school – something to which anyone who has or will go to high school can relate.

Unfortunately, Popular was so, well, popular that people tend to only associate Nada Surf with that song. To wit: Do a search for Nada Surf on iTunes. The band comes up on one of iTunes’ “essentials” lists: ” ’90s One-Hit Wonders.” Oh, that dreaded “one-hit wonder” label. Lumping Nada Surf into a playlist alongside artists such as Snow, Eagle-Eye Cherry and Chumbawamba isn’t only unfair and irresponsible, it’s misleading. Did iTunes forget about Nada’s three terrific albums since?

So when someone in the crowd Monday actually requested Popular during a silent moment between songs, I cringed. I turned to my wife: “No. Someone didn’t actually just request that, did they?” I’m still not sure what surprised me more: that someone requested it or that Nada Surf played it. I don’t think it was part of the set list, but I can’t be sure about that.

What was more telling was lead singer Matthew Caws’ reaction before and after the song. Bassist Daniel Lorca asked the crowd for help singing, and Caws said, almost sheepishly, “I like singing that song.” Afterward, Caws explained, “Hey, we still like that song. We just don’t play it every night. No big deal.”

It almost sounded like an apology, but it was more of a statement that Popular is still part of Nada Surf history, one-hit wonder tag be damned. I think it’s to Nada Surf’s credit that the band has created such a great catalog of songs since Popular that anyone who actually thinks of Nada as a one-hit wonder is missing out entirely on what the group has to offer.

So, uh, what the hell:

Nada Surf | Popular
Nada Surf | Armies Walk

(A song I wish they would have played off The Weight is a Gift. Buy it!)

4 thoughts on “Nada Surf actually played “Popular””

  1. I saw the Flaming Lips easter 2000, and Wayne quieted down the crowd after a riotous version of “The Spark that Bled”, and explained the band’s rationale for playing the next song, “She Don’t Use Jelly”–“we really like this song, and have no idea why it became popular”. Then they passed out about 50 lunch-bag sized bags of confetti, and prompted the crowd to toss it up during the chorus, at the same time as the lighting engineer was prompted to bring the house lights up. It was awesome–reclaiming in an intimate setting, in a celebratory way, what had become so blandly recontextualized and passively dismissed. I’m sure that’s exactly what happened last night.

  2. Man, i saw this same show in Dallas and wish i could have stayed for the whole thing. I went for Rogue Wave, but really enjoyed the rest of the show as well. Probably one of the best lineups i’ve ever seen, and i’ve seen Rogue Wave play with a lot of different people.

  3. Nice post… seems like Nada overshadowed Rogue Wave for you. Can’t wait till the caravan comes through town! What’s this I hear about live tracks?

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