Kicking-off a summer tour with two intimate and sold-out nights at the ICA, Nada Surf's frontman, Matthew Caws, sets the tone when he appears holding a tiny milk jug. "They didn't have any cups left," he says, with mischief in his eyes, as he takes a dainty sip from his "carafe".
It's the kind of joke a pub band pulls out to break the ice, but almost two decades have passed since Brooklyn's Nada Surf became a popular, Weezer-shaped blip on the indie-pop radar. Caws' line works perfectly, creating an atmosphere more akin to a big bedroom jam than a structured performance. The crowd of mostly thirtysomething trendies are pleased.
Firing the starting gun with the catchy, crowd-pleasing "Weightless" and following up with the sweet melodies of "Whose Authority", from the widely praised 2008 album Lucky, the trio show that they have evolved from their mainstream roots to produce a sound that has been compared to the moody pop of The Shins and the slick power of REM.
However, this gig is to promote their forthcoming sixth record – a surprising covers album entitled if i had a hi-fi, which will be released on their own label on 3 May. That only adds to their low-key, neighbourhood band presence. The album is tested with a version of the Depeche Mode classic "Enjoy the Silence" – once the haunting synths and deep vocal melancholy of the original are cast out of mind, it proves a valiant effort and showcases Nada's knack for packaging brooding lyrics into summery, string-driven singalongs. An outspoken heckler shouts "Stick to what you know", but that sentiment raises only a low chorus of boos from bystanders.
The trio's energetic take on Bill Fox's "Electrocution" works far better live than on record and Caws has the crowd back on board when he whips out a story about accidentally taking a pre-show ambient pill instead of a beta-blocker, resulting in the band playing only three songs in 38 minutes.