Live Review & Photos: M. Ward and Nice as Fuck at the Belly Up, July 12, 2016

M. Ward at the Belly Up
Photos by Andy Bartotto

The Belly Up got all sorts of rad last Tuesday night when M. Ward and Nice as Fuck brought their very different styles of music to the Solana Beach venue.

The talented ladies of Nice as Fuck got the evening started on the dance floor, and that’s where they stayed their whole set. But don’t get confused — they weren’t there to dance. Instead, they had a sweet little setup of drums and various mixers and mics.

NAF is Jenny Lewis’ new project and it’s a hell of a departure from her work as a solo artist and with Rilo Kiley. It’s experimental, bordering on electronic. The presence of the musicians playing in the middle of the crowd lent the experience a very immediate feeling. It was enthralling to feel the energy of the crowd build as NAF’s set went on.

Lewis later explained the formation of Nice as Fuck to the audience. They were playing a show at some small venue when Ward approached them afterward to ask if they’d like to open some dates on his new tour. The band happily obliged but didn’t have any finished songs yet. So, because of M. Ward’s offer, the fire was lit beneath their proverbial asses. Shortly after, the songs were finished and a surprise self-titled album was released.

Nice as Fuck did a fantastic job of bringing the crowd together for what ended up being one of the best opening acts that has graced the Belly Up in some time.

As for M. Ward, first-time listeners to his vintage brand of indie rock might have been a little confused. The sound of the amps and guitars screamed rockabilly with a solid dash of ’60s pop thrown in for good measure. But the way he composes the songs is something entirely modern, and the way he sings them is like nothing else you’ve ever heard.

The songs in their recorded form have a comforting quality: something warm and cozy you’d like to curl up and take a long nap in. His albums are sprinkled with some of the most romantic, sweet ballads you’d ever hope to hear. But at his Belly Up show, Ward and his band chose to rely more on a rock vibe, and it made for one hell of a fun set.

The songs were in large part from his newest album, More Rain. That album found Ward embracing himself as a rock guitarist. It’s an element to his music that has always been there in some form, but it was on full display at the Belly Up as he played solo after rockin’ solo. The rest of the band was also really great, ably backing him with their vintage guitars and solid musicianship.

A few breaks in the energetic set came by way of the ballads, “Poison Cup” and “Lullabye+Exile,” both from his fantastic album Hold Time. These songs had the audience swaying and the couples in attendance holding each other a little closer. The sweet vibes continued a little while longer as the ladies from NAF came out to assist on a few of the songs.

It was a great night of music. Newcomers to each group left as converts, and existing fans left as bigger fans. It’ll be exciting to see where the road takes each band next.

Photos: M. Ward and Nice as Fuck at the Belly Up

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