Friday, 24 August 2012

Bowling and Hipsters and Bands, Oh My!: The Drums and Chairlift live at The Brooklyn Bowl, August 22nd, 2012

by Carrie Quartly

On Wednesday I went to a free RSVP event at hipster mecca Brooklyn Bowl here in New York, which is half bowling alley and half concert venue. There are giant HD TV screens on the walls, and you can hear the pins being knocked down in the lanes as you’re standing by the stage waiting for bands. I watched as some of the expectant audience nearby savagely devoured portions of fried chicken and indulgent disco fries, and then greedily sucked the grease off their fingers.
It was a Diet Coke and SPIN sponsored concert featuring Chairlift and indie pop sensation The Drums, so staff made sure your complimentary soft drinks were being refilled and that you got your free magazine with its Best Coast and Wavves summer cover shot. At the same time, the corporate sponsors and the venue were more than happy to delay the start of the show by an hour and a half, encouraging patrons to splash out on more belly buster sandwiches and pricey cocktails, with the monotonous thud of uninspired club music ensuring absolute zombification.
First band Chairlift eventually came on, waifish singer Caroline Polachek stood behind her keyboard in a midriff peasant top teamed with a giant pair of palazzo pants and black platform boots, while the guys wore the usual t-shirt and skinny jeans combo.  
After the maddening boredom of the headache inducing beat dropping earlier, Chairlift’s lightweight, airy pop didn’t do a whole lot for me - as bland as baby food, with shades of Sarah McLachlan.  You might remember them from “Bruises”, featured on the TV ad that launched the 4th generation iPod nano a few years ago, or then again, you might not… I’m sure they’re nice and sincere enough about what they’re doing, but I honestly could not wait for them to get off.  
Finally, after the slowest descent down a backstage staircase EVER, The Drums made their appearance. If you are not a fan it’s easy to see why they are written off as mere image-conscious victims of the constantly spewing hype machine. Frontman Jonathan Pierce is like a Brat Pack hunk out of a John Hughes movie with his blond bowl cut, ubiquitous red varsity jacket and turned up jeans. Synth player Jacob Graham, bassist/guitarist Myles Matheny of Violens fame and second guitarist Charles Narwold are just as striking with their chiseled cheekbones, edgy hairdos and carefully selected wardrobe pieces. You can almost imagine the band’s audition process – good looks and a GQ styling assistant permanently attached like the half-formed second head of a parasitic twin being primary requirements for the job…But of course all these transparent judgments really don’t matter when you get to know the music.
They may be pretty boys, but they are also endearingly gawky and have a tendency to wear their hearts on their sleeves. A few months ago, the band openly criticised North Carolina’s constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage on their Facebook page, and when a homophobic fan responded by wanting to return their records to them, they promptly offered him a refund, as payment from him would be like "taking blood money” to them. This is not the stance of a shallow pop band.
This same earnestness comes through in their music, whether from a more laidback perspective with songs about summer days with friends, or Jonny Pierce’s more recent rebellion against the religious zealotry of his upbringing and resultant estrangement from his Evangelical Christian parents. 

I last saw The Drums at the HMV Forum in London in November 2010 supported by Margate’s great Two Wounded Birds, a show which immediately followed the surprise departure of bassist and childhood friend Adam Kessler, so they seemed a bit strained and unstable. There were many highlights though, and despite being rough around the edges, it almost seemed like a Beatles concert at times with the shrill female screaming and declarations of love for Jonny.
Tonight they couldn’t have been more on form - the bright, trebly guitar tone was clean and precise, the bouncy thump of Myles Matheny’s bass was contagious, the synthesisers created a hypnotically moody undercurrent, and Jonny himself sashayed like Morrissey and jittered like Ian Curtis while sounding like neither. Because Jonny is best when he sounds like Jonny and refrains from dropping into a low Ian Curtis baritone, and in the gap between November 2010 and now, he seems to have honed his trademark dreamy falsetto to perfection.

They rattled through "What You Were", the charming new wave synthesiser swoon of “Best Friend”, the lonely pleas and swirling atmospherics of “Me and the Moon”, and the melancholic and theatrical analogue synths of “If He Likes It Let Him Do It” (a title which wouldn’t seem out of place on a Smiths LP).
The darkness was then lifted by “Book of Stories”, with that great beachy jangle sounding like a modern Pet Sounds outtake, and the uplifting closer from 2nd album Portamento, “How It Ended”.
The chiming “Money”, with it’s fabulous driving bassline, was an emotionally direct, sad singalong which easily resonated with most people there, with it’s frustrated refrain of “I want to buy you something/but I don’t have any money/no, I don’t have any money”.
Their only misstep came during “I Need a Doctor”, their favourite song to play live, which was more like ‘I need a tuneup’ for Charles Narwold, and Jonny had some words in his ear and Narwold admitted with a smile that it was ‘terrible’.
Well you can’t win them all (!), and they redeemed themselves with the instantly likeable “Days” with its wistful longing and the sleepy romanticism of its rhythmic bass strum.
The big crowd pleaser hit followed, indie smash and summer anthem of 2009, “Let's Go Surfing”. Its appeal is instant and undeniable - that chugging bass riff, that reverbed guitar, the catchy as fuck whistling…At one point, I could have sworn Jonny changed the lyrics and adlibbed “Obama, he’s gonna make it all better”, which I suppose is possible given the outspoken nature of their political leanings.
They closed out with the giddy, soaring hooks of “The Future” from their debut album, “And I’m aaaaaalways in your caaaaaaaage/set me freeeeeeee…”
Love it or hate it, the music of The Drums is blissful and freeing escapism, but is also not afraid to deal with harsh realities in a sincere way, and their songs give me a yearning nostalgia for a lost time in my life, even if it was just because they were the constant soundtrack of my gloomy bus commute 2 years ago…But that’s the power of pop.
What You Were
Best Friend
Me and the Moon
If He Likes It Let Him Do It
Book of Stories
How It Ended
Baby That's Not the Point
I Need Fun In My Life
I Need a Doctor
Let's Go Surfing
The Future

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