Nada Surf arrived on the indie scene in 1996 with “Popular,” a spoken-word/rock anthem about teenage angst and heartbreak. The song established the band and Matthew Caws as purveyors of introspective lyrics that plumb life’s peaks and valleys.
Twenty years later, the band hasn’t changed much. In March, Nada Surf released “You Know Who You Are,” its eighth studio album, which is stocked with melodic indie rock ballads and anthems about the ebb and flow of life and the struggle to find peace and balance.
Wednesday night, the quartet from New York made a rare Kansas City appearance, spending about two hours regaling a small but enthusiastic crowd of more than 400 with songs from its deep catalog, including a few longtime favorites like “Popular.”
Live, Nada Surf is a no-frills band. Their songs are guitar-centric and cast to give Caws’ voice and his lyrics the spotlight. The dynamics shift, sometimes within a song, from a wistful ballad to a stormy anthem in which guitars collide and explode. The hyper-poppy “Happy Kid,” for example, opened in a full gallop, then slowed to a trot, then returned to his initial frenetic pace.
Some of the better moments, however, were the quieter, uber-melodic songs, like two from their stellar breakthrough album “Let Go”: the lovely hymn “Blonde on Blonde,” a tribute to the classic Bob Dylan album, and “Inside of Love,” a lovelorn anthem that set off one of several sing-alongs.
Caws conversed with his audience throughout the show, cracking jokes and making random observations. Before “Rushing,” he mediated on the Tension Envelope sign for a bit. Before “80 Windows,” he aroused a cheer when he expressed appreciation for Ultimate Fakebook, a power pop band from Manhattan, for showing Nada Surf the ropes back in the late 1990s.
The set list included seven of the 10 songs on “You Know Who You Are,” which blended seamlessly with the older material. “Believe You’re Mine” was a highlight.
Other highlights: the jangle pop gem “Whose Authority,” which bore a Tommy Keene flavor; “No Quick Fix,” another “Let Go” track; and the locomotive “Jules and Jim” and “Concrete Bed,” during which Caws persuaded the crowd to sway back and forth in unison.
They closed with some favorites, including “Popular” and “Blankest Year,” which includes a fusillade of f-bombs. They followed that with a quick, makeshift rendition of “Blizzard of ’77,” which includes a chorus that summed up the vibe that prevailed between the band and its audience: “I miss you more than I knew.”
Cold to See Clear; Whose Authority; Weightless; Believe You’re Mine; Happy Kid; Do It Again; 80 Windows; No Quick Fix; Jules and Jim; Concrete Bed; Inside of Love; Animal; The Way You Wear Your Head; Friend Hospital; Rushing; Blonde on Blonde; Out of the Dark; When I Was Young; New Bird; See These Bones. Encore: Hyperspace; Popular; Always Love; Blankest Year; Blizzard of ’77