By: Katie Barber
“We have a security question…we’re asking if everyone can take one step back.” Such was the plight of Surf Curse, whose gravitational pull was just too strong for their own good during the Salt Lake City stop of their Heaven Surrounds You tour. The room was packed enough that only when the audience detached themselves from the front of the stage did one suddenly notice the air start to recirculate, which probably only fed the unceasing cycle of near-moshing, crowd-surfing, and lyric-shouting that accompanied their set.
Before the show began, drummer/vocalist Nick Rattigan made a brief appearance to request an audience member join him outside. Moments later the fan pulled from the crowd was on the stage, introducing the band by telling attendees that Salt Lake City was the group’s favorite place to perform. Though many artists make such a comment, the decibel level reached when the Surf Curse company took the stage made the claim easy to believe. Rattigan’s other project, Current Joys, was last in SLC in February playing the same venue to another sold-out crowd—further confirming suspicions that his Reno-borne talents have successfully made the trip across I-80.
“Seeing Surf Curse live has become a rite of passage for disaffected adolescence in the South-West,” reads a description of the group on their label’s website. A catalog going back as far as 2015 featuring tracks with titles such as “Haunt Me,” “Goth Babe,” and “Freaks” seems to set a nominal precedence that might appeal to the angst and rebellion of the contemporary millennial. This precedence is corroborated throughout their four albums with a surf-rock-meets-Misfits guitar and drum combo and lyrics that certainly capitalize on the emotion of the disaffected: He wants me to kill you / And I really think I might / Because Heather I hate you.
Surf Curse began their set with these lyrics from 2015’s Buds, followed by 2019’s “Maps to the Stars” and “Midnight Cowboy.” His kit set up close to the crowd at the front of the stage, Rattigan was joined by guitarists Jacob Rubeck and Noah Kohl, keyboardist Maddy Boyd, and bassist Henry Dillon. Dillon and Rattigan provided the headbanging that kept the beat to the crowd shouting every word of Nothing Yet’s “All Is Lost” and the newly released “Dead Ringers,” while Rubeck provided additional vocals and Kohl underlined the surf in “surf rock.”
Boyd’s synth swelled with “River’s Edge,” “Doom Generation,” and “Trust,” forcing something sonically reminiscent of The War on Drugs to fill the room while Rubeck and Rattigan screamed. The emotion of the words was reflected back at them in the power of the crowd’s shouting harmonies and their deranged jumping, and the band had to gently remind them to again step back before playing “Memory” and “Labyrinth,” from their newest release. “If someone falls down, please pick them up,” asked Rubeck after two people had managed to crowd surf the short length of the venue during “Ponyboy.”
Naturally, the group dedicated a significant portion of the night to Heaven Surrounds You. In addition to a surprising but excellently executed synth emphasis, Rattigan’s drums and vocals were much more accessible live; an isolated heartbeat-like bass drum rhythm absent from the studio version of “Hour of the Wolf” set the pace of the song, for example, and his nuanced vocals were much more prominent, swinging anywhere between Car Seat Headrest’s Will Toledo and Gang of Youth’s David Le’aupepe.
“Do you mind if I get in the crowd for a second?” he asked, to which he received resounding applause. Kohl took up the drums and led the group into their final song, “Disco,” also on Heaven Surrounds You. Each person in the room shook in tandem as they all shouted the lyrics, and Rattigan mixed with the sweat and screams of the audience while narrowly dodging the feet of yet another crowd surfer.
With the last note, the room immediately began chanting “SURF CURSE,” demanding an encore. The five piece shortly reemerged, launching into older discography with “Freaks” and “Forever Dumb.” As both the crowd and the band yelled certain lyrics to the point they were almost unrecognizable, one unidentified band member entered the sea of people and got lost once again, encouraging attendees to climb on top of the amps on the stage to get a better view of what was happening below. That must have been the moment that marked the Surf Curse right of passage…for in the chaos where nothing separated the band from the crowd, a raw energy tinged with confusion, happiness, and disillusion synchronized and echoed out of Kilby Court’s doors, bound for the far reaches of the Southwest.