Back in 1996 Nada Surf had "one-hit wonder" written all over it. The New York pop-rock trio's song "Popular," incisively skewering high school cliques, was an MTV smash but not particularly representative of its skills as a band.
The group was jettisoned by its major label after 1998's terrific "The Proximity Effect," but the smart folks at the indie label Barsuk knew a good thing when they heard it. Since then, it's been a pleasure to watch Nada Surf transcend those beginnings to release a string of increasingly well-honed, and well-received, albums that hold melody, atmosphere, and crunching guitar licks in high regard.
"Lucky" is the latest of these, and Thursday night at the Paradise, the band, with Calexico's multi-talented Martin Wenk on loan to man everything from trumpet to vocoder, played a generous portion of it during a cheerful set that spanned an hour and 45 minutes.
Whether bearing down on his lower register for the uptempo "Concrete Bed" or drifting along dreamily on the wings of an airy falsetto for the elegiac "80 Windows," lead singer-guitarist Matthew Caws's voice was always an invitation.
An affable host, Caws also extended literal invitations, coaxing almost everyone into backing vocals for "Weightless" and a jaunty two-step during what he called an attempt at a Motown song, "Inside of Love." Perhaps it was the way he asked that made people so amenable. "We could do it," he said of harmonizing bandmates bassist Daniel Lorca and drummer Ira Elliot, "but if you did it with us, it would be so much better."
Even with the participation, it was a treat to watch Caws caught by surprise when the audience seemed to take over for him on "Fruit Fly."
With its joyful trumpet, kicky beat - calling to mind Adam Ant's "Goody Two Shoes" - and profane group refrain, "Blankest Year" closed on a celebratory note.