“I am full of fear
Easier to hear
What sort of sentiment do these lyrics conjure? Despair; introspection; confusion? Well for Surf Curse’s crowd, packed into the standing room offered by The Novo, practically oozing an amalgamation of youthful frustration and excited tension, the answer to the question above appeared to be glee; euphoria; agitation. In fact, as frontman Nick Rattigan, with a devastatingly anguished tone, vouched “easier to hear/beautiful fiction,” the distress discernible in “Self Portrait,” a song which sheds light on the confrontation of painful realities and disillusionment, was met with…tears? No. Crowd Surfing.
Come 6pm, the sky above Downtown LA was alight with the oranges and purples of a beautiful, yet polluted sunset. Though my photographer and I admired the beauty facilitated by the setting of a burnt orange sun, its beauty was dichotomous in the same way that Surf Curse’s crowd ceremoniously celebrated their depressing poetic productions. Humans have the uncanny ability to find joy and beauty in circumstances that ought to render melancholy, a beautiful hypocrisy that was illustrated by Surf Curse as their exuberant smiles lit up The Novo.
A couple minutes past 7, Toner, Surf Curse’s supporting act, took the stage. Hailing from Oakland, CA the band’s slacker rock sound was less lo-fi, and more garage punk in performance, with the 4-piece band reminiscent of the DIY Culture that birthed Surf Curse in 2013. With frontman Samuelito Cruz on bass, Mikey Riviera on rhythm guitar, Nick Bruder on guitar, and Kennan Sommer on drums, the energetic quartet found success in a power-chord-heavy performance, characterized by heavy distortion and powerful drum fills. With long black hair arcing gracefully in time with the crash of the cymbals, Sommer was one of the most entertaining aspects of their act, frequently accompanied by Cruz as he hopped around the drum kit, aggressively strumming his bass. With new singles, “Heavy Truck Driver” and “Haters Anthem, interspersed with cuts off of 2020’s Silk Road and 2021’s White Buffalo Roam, Toner’s setlist showcased the best of their melodic punk discography.
As Surf Curse bounded onstage, my first impression was: “those haircuts are insane.” With Nick Rattigan [vocals and drums] rocking his signature overgrown look and Jacob Rubeck [lead guitar] donning a modest mullet, new member Henry Dillon’s [bass and supporting vocals] ambitiously long mullet contrasted nicely with the band’s second new member, Noah Kohll’s [guitar], curly halo of hair.
Opening with “All is Lost” off of their 2017 album, Nothing Yet, Rattigan’s bitter vocals were a manifestation of the repetitive lyric “Cause I lost you again.” Eerie synths and emotional lyrics were juxtaposed both by the ferocious tempo set by Rattigan on drums, as well as the massive smiles painting every member’s face; I got the sense that, despite the Surf Curse’s moody discography, the band was genuinely excited to perform, projecting a halo of positive energy that practically illuminated the room.
Between songs, the band for the first time engaged with a desperate audience when Rubeck shouted “safety check!” amicably grinning ear-to-ear as he gazed into the writhing crowd, eventually joined by the rest of his bandmates. Though appreciated, the act of compassion went unrealized by the crowd which thankfully did not require assistance; the performance proceeded.
Changing the pace up with “Arrow” before the come-down “Cathy,” both off of 2022’s Magic Hour, the band played with a rawness that is only achievable live. Both songs, but especially “Cathy,” were transformed from clean-cut, well-produced cuts into explosive, adrenaline-inducing songs which easily stood their ground when played independent of the album. Rattigan’s voice was again a standout, a slight vocal tremor as the songs built exacerbating the success of their culminations. Moreover, the decision to include Dillon and Kohll in the lineup was substantiated by the depth they contributed to fleshing out Surf Curse’s signature sound.
Following a milky-smooth, yet angsty performance of the lo fi-leaning “Doom Generation,” the audience lost it over the first chords to “Heathers.” Off of their debut album Buds, the staple Surf Curse cut was performed with the same enthusiasm as their newer material; from Rubeck hopping across the stage on one leg to Rattigan shouting, “sing along!” the crowd’s enthusiasm upon hearing the 2015 classic was beyond reciprocated by the band.
“Lost Honor,” a single released in anticipation of the release of their most recent album, was indisputably played like the highlight-of-the-album it is; with a fantastic build highlighting Rubeck on guitar, the crowd fed into the anticipation, exploding as the song reached its crescendo, shouting along as Rattigan sang “I don’t wanna live and die in the public eye/live a private life.”
In a heartwarming cessation of playing, Rattigan expressed the sentiment, “I feel so close to you guys,” with the other members marveling at the packed balcony framing the pit below. Throughout the night, small instances like these preserved the mutual respect foundational to the symbiotic relationship between artist and audience, reassuring supporters that they were both seen and appreciated by the performer.
Next up were two highlights from the setlist: the single “TVI” off of Magic Hour, and “Midnight Cowboy” off of 2019’s Heaven Surrounds You. The performance of TVI, to me, was distinct from that of tamer cuts off Magic Hour in that the song showcased Rattigan’s crashing, breakneck performance on drums, bisected by Rubeck’s twangy, clear guitar sounds. The song was performed like the adrenaline-inducing frenzy it was written to be. On the other hand, “Midnight Cowboy,” performed with a satisfyingly jauntier vocal tone. Featuring a similar build in terms of the driver being Rattigan’s drumming, the overall the song maintained a dream-like quality reminiscent of the song’s lyrics pertaining to a wandering youth.
A personal favorite, both in and out of concert, the performance of the recent release “Self Portrait,” exceeded my expectations, with Rattigan’s agitated screams permeating the melancholy of tortured guitar chords. Playing with a ferocious intensity, Surf Curse’s group effort to realize the melancholy song paid off, resulting in the creation of a guttural, full-bodied performance.
“Hour of the Wolf” served as a sort of intermission, played considerably faster than the studio version as if to prime the audience for the extraordinary finale: “Freaks,” a beloved song encompassing the surf-punk sound of Buds, “Sugar,” a single off of Magic Hour, “Disco,” a surfy single from 2019, followed by an encore of 2015’s “Fire Walk With Me,” “Forever Dumb” and “Goth Babe.”
2013’s “Freaks,” which to the surprise of the band, was given new life after it blew up on Tik Tok in 2021, was met with the expected reaction from a Gen Z crowd: phones in the air, attendees bounded around, screaming along with Rattigan as he proclaimed “I am just a freak.” Perhaps it’s the utter simplicity of the song, or the relatability facilitated by its depiction of self-proclaimed alienation and depression, but this song’s resurgence was clearly no accident.
Despite it being a more recent release, the crowd arguably, and somewhat surprisingly, screamed, crowd-surfed, and danced the most vigoroulsy to “Sugar.” Rattigan was practically screaming the lyrics as he pounded the drums, working the crowd into the frenzy they craved. And with “Disco’s” choppy, yet user-friendly rhythm, that frenzy persisted; the dancing never stopped, rather it was encouraged by the fluid transition from “Sugar’s” eccentric outro to “Disco’s” expedited intro. Even Samuleito Cruz of Toners could not resist the song’s pull, joining the crowd-surfers with a dramatic swan-dive off the stage; Rattigan followed with a plea to “Keep Toner up!”
Sensing the conclusion of the concert, the crowd celebrated with a newfound urgency as the band returned for their encore, graciously bestowing some of their earliest and most adored work upon their fans. At one point during “Fire Walk With Me,” there were upwards of 3 fans crowd-surfing at once. “Forever Dumb” ended with a powerful, passionate outro, the perfect conclusion to a beautifully cultivated setlist showcasing both the lyrical evolution and enduring energy contained in a discography dating back over a decade.
Listen to Surf Curse’s Magic Hour out now: