27th February 2012
There’s something compelling about New York indie outfit The Drums. Not particularly successful in their home country, their 2010 self-titled debut album achieved far greater fame over the pond in the UK where their combination of nostalgic beach pop songs, angsty vocals, alternative haircuts and clothing resonated more with the indie-loving British public. We do like adopting alternative American bands as our own, and The Drums’ musical style has been compared with other bands like MGMT and Interpol that are/were more popular over here than back in their own country.
Located on the Chalk Farm Road with its quirky outlets and bohemian passersby, Camden’s Roundhouse was an appropriate venue for them to promote their second album, ‘Portamento’, to a crowd containing an even balance of emo school kids, students and young professionals. Released in the backend of 2011, it hasn’t been as commercially successful as its predecessor, perhaps owing to the fact it hasn’t got as catchy a pop song as ‘I Wanna Go Surfing’, but it’s a decent follow-up and I like the way it draws more on the synthesiser-centric roots of band members Jonny Pierce and Jacob Graham as well as darker, more emotional tones and lyrics.
This was the first time I’ve seen them perform live and two things surprised me about their live set compared with listening to them on the ol’ iPod. Firstly, that their bass lines are far more prominent – I know this is a natural occurrence during a gig – but it brought out a heavier side which quite suited them. Secondly, lead singer Jonny Pierce, has the most intriguing dancing style that can only be described as a sort of manic mincing. It’s fantastic to watch. He becomes possessed by his lyrics as if the gay version of Beelzebub inhabited him. He cites Joy Division as a musical influence and I’d love to know what Ian Curtis would make of his manic mincing. I somehow think he’d thoroughly approve.
Another enigmatic front man from the past (despite what you think of him) is Boy George, who is a big fan of the band. So much so that halfway through the set, the lights went down and a portly silhouetted figure with unmistakable outline of a jaunty trilby could be seen coming on stage. When the lights came up the Culture Club queen himself joined in with The Drums’ ‘If He Likes It, Let Him Do It’. Pierce and George completed a rendition of Culture Club’s ‘Do You Really Want To Hurt Me’ which drew mixed reactions from the crowd, but almost everyone joined in the sing-along.
It was a fun evening. The stand-out tracks for me were ‘Best Friend’, ‘Down by the Water’ and ‘Book of Revelation’ where Graham, who was dressed like a school master, allowed the synth to dominate more so than with other tracks and indicates where I hope The Drums are intending on heading next with their sound. Graham spent much of the gig with his back to the crowd, absorbed in his technological boxes and keyboard, perhaps acknowledging his transfer from guitar to synthesiser but also the fact that they produce their own music and despite his lack of engagement, why shouldn’t he take centre stage?
Whilst unquestionably talented and enjoyable, so much of their musical style is retrospective to the point where you can’t immediately pick something that’s groundbreaking about them. But see them if you get a chance, if only for the way Pierce commands the stage. Maybe they will find something the sets them apart from the past whilst allowing them to nurture their influences, at the moment though I’m content. The Drums are refreshing in the nostalgic sense of the word – they take you on a wistful journey back to some point in your life you can’t really point to specifically but you remember it was a happy time.
By Edward Lines