Sometimes records reveal themselves slowly, taking weeks, months or even years to settle in. II, the 2012 LP from the Brooklyn garage crooners of Nude Beach, was one of those albums for me, a wounded and romantic collection of songs that leaned heavily on its influences without letting them overwhelm the sentiments being expressed, eventually revealing a weighty emotional core. Like a younger, sprightlier Reigning Sound, the band brings a risible punk energy to even the hoariest ’60s rock tropes, and as a live band they’re not afraid to uncork the type of crisp, spiky solo that would send the eyes of their less-polished peers rolling. Though the band’s aesthetic suggests a dogged commitment to all things frayed, shaggy and lose, the songs reveal a keen-eyed professionalism.
“We rarely play Manhattan,” said singer and guitarist Chuck Betz toward the beginning of the show. Later he would observe that he forgot all the band’s merchandise back at his apartment, but luckily the band remembered all its songs, kicking off with the Elvis Costello meets surf rock triumphalism of “Radio.” The band looked younger than the songs they were playing, Betz’s mop of hair bopping along to the nostalgic and melancholy lyrics that often sound like they were scrawled in an old drunk’s notebook. Showcasing older material, tracks from II and even some new tunes, the songs were all tied together by the band’s sense of gnarled, earned intimacy.
While it’s clear from the band’s videos that the players have a strong sense of humor, the banter was kept to a minimum on Friday night. Instead the band chose to stay locked into its performance, taking only short breaks before introducing another souped-up, pogo-worthy take on rock’s history books. At one point Betz struggled to figure out what song was next. “Unfortunately the setlist is written in a color very similar to the paper,” he quipped.
The similarities between the songs—roguish punk verses, big pub-rock chorus, jittery guitar solo—didn’t seem to bother the crowd much, those in the front row bobbing along to almost every song as if they were at a power-pop sock-hop. As the show reached its end, Betz unleashed a heavy, molten solo complete with just enough psychedelic noodling and feedback-driven noise to please those of us looking for a raucous finale, his body coiling and jerking along with the instrument. Then, before the lights came up, he leaned into the microphone with all the kinetic energy and slick expertise of Bugs Bunny: “That’s all folks.” All he needed was a carrot.