Neutron and X-ray scattering experiments have provided mounting evidence for spin and charge ordering phenomena in underdoped cuprates. These range from early work on stripe correlations in Nd-LSCO to the latest discovery of charge-density-waves in YBa2Cu3O6+x. Both phenomena are characterized by a pronounced dependence on doping, temperature and an externally applied magnetic field. Here, we show that these electron-lattice instabilities exhibit also a previously unrecognized bulk-surface dichotomy. Surface-sensitive electronic and structural probes uncover a temperature-dependent evolution of the CuO2 plane band dispersion and apparent Fermi pockets in underdoped Bi2Sr 2-xLaxCuO6+δ (Bi2201), which is directly associated with an hitherto-undetected strong temperature dependence of the incommensurate superstructure periodicity below 130 K. In stark contrast, the structural modulation revealed by bulk-sensitive probes is temperature- independent. These findings point to a surface-enhanced incipient charge-density-wave instability, driven by Fermi surface nesting. This discovery is of critical importance in the interpretation of single-particle spectroscopy data, and establishes the surface of cuprates and other complex oxides as a rich playground for the study of electronically soft phases.