The free 90-minute outdoor show, part of the Music at Arrowbrook Park summer concert series, is something that Nada Surf does “very, very rarely,” singer and guitarist Matthew Caws says. During a recent interview from his home in Cambridge, England, he recalled performing a free public gig in Paris years ago as part of the countrywide Fête de la Musique celebration, but “I’m thrilled that they want us to do it,” he says. “I mean, how great to play in a park like that, and just to play for free? I’m psyched.”
In fact, the organizers of the 10-year-old concert series — which features such familiar artists as Scythian, who kicked off the series July 9, and dieselbilly guitarist Bill Kirchen, who visits Aug. 20 — call Nada Surf a band “whom we have tried to book for many years.” Casual music fans will remember the alternative rock group for “Popular,” a maddeningly catchy, grunge-adjacent song that felt inescapable back in the summer of 1996, thanks in part to its MTV Buzz Bin video. In the ensuing decades, however, the band has built a solid fan base on both sides of the Atlantic, thanks to a catalogue of smart, tuneful power-pop in the vein of Teenage Fanclub or early Weezer — singalong indie rock songs where introspective lyrics share space with jangling guitars and massive hooks.
The band’s ninth album, “Never Not Together,” was released in February 2020, less than two weeks after that Black Cat show. Four American and European tours had been planned to support that record, Caws says, but after fits and false starts, the band got back on the road in 2021. Its most recent tours, which started in May, included playing festivals in France, the Netherlands and Austria, as well as clubs from Paris to Vienna. “There’s been a lot of joy,” Caws says. “The audiences have been really generous and warm.”
Some of that could be a reaction to the music: “Never Not Together” finds the band at its most philosophical, examining relationships, contemplating how to move on from disappointment and, on the sprawling “Mathilde,” how toxic masculinity is shaped in childhood. During the album highlight “Something I Should Do,” a peppy tune laden with chiming guitars and woozy keyboards, there’s an extended, unexpected spoken-word segment — Caws calls it “a long, kind of ranty section” that bears repeated listening — where the singer declines to beat himself up in song (“I’ve done plenty of that”), name-drops the Dutch tulip bubble and Haight-Ashbury, and reminds listeners “empathy is good, lack of empathy is bad.” At recent shows, the band has been beginning encores with “Just Wait,” an atmospheric slow-burner that counsels anyone feeling stressed or overwhelmed, “You’re gonna be just fine / It might take some time / But you gotta know it’s gonna be okay,” amid gentle background “ooohs”. “We’re generally pointed in a positive and helpful direction,” Caws says, “and that I think sometimes that’s even more necessary or useful. Maybe that’s contributed to the good feeling at the concerts.”
After this weekend, the band will scatter again, at least until October, when its members will reconvene in Spain, where bassist and band co-founder Daniel Lorca lives, to work on material for the band’s 10th album, followed by a tour of the U.K. and Europe.
Where to find free outdoor concerts in the D.C. area
Caws knows there are plenty of music fans who haven’t tracked the band’s career in the decades since “Popular” and still think of the band as one-hit wonders, but he says that “there’s nothing you can do but just play the songs.” At a recent festival in the Netherlands, he explains, the band tried to recast the set list for a general audience, instead of its usual fans, and “just played rockers the whole time. We took out pretty much anything slow or midtempo and pensive. You figure, for a big audience, just play hard and fast and loud. But after the show, I thought, maybe I have to remember that people like you for who you are, not for a first impression.”
In the future, he says, “I might try to resist that and keep pieces of different aspects of the band. Just do what you do and be yourself, and that’ll work if it works.”
Performing Saturday at 7:30 p.m. at Arrowbrook Centre Park, 2351 Field Point Rd., Herndon. fairfaxcounty.gov/parks. Free.