Both bands have risen from obscurity to critical success with the release of their debut albums. It almost felt like a competition last night with the way people talked about the band they had come to see. Some had loved Surfer Blood "like forever" and others had known The Drums "since the beginning," (both of those time frames being about two years). Of course most people who were there didn't give a damn who knew what and just wanted to see who could put on the best show.
The Drums started off at a distinct disability because their lead guitarist quit the band ten days ago in the middle of their tour, which the band described as "devastating" in the news releases. The question was, could they still win the hearts of the audience with a new guitarist? Absolutely.
The minute lead singer Jonathan Pierce emerged from behind the curtains, the audience went nuts. Standing tall in a bright red satin jacket, Pierce looked every inch the front man and in case anyone had any doubts who was in charge the only lighting in the first and last number was spotlight pointed directly on him. "If you are feeling inhibited tonight," Pierce said in a kindly tone, "You couldn't possibly look more foolish than we do."
He may have had a point. Launching into a set of gloriously fluffy 80s inspired pop music that wouldn't go amiss in a John Hughes movie, Pierce danced around the stage in an awkward but mesmerizing shuffle. Waving his arms around like an electrified drum major, he crooned in his deep sad voice things like "How will I survive without you?" (Best Friend) and "I don't care about nothing" (Let's Go Surfing) while his band danced around behind him.
The only real downside was that the set was too polished. This happens sometimes when the band desperately wants their live show to sound just like the album. Phantom synthesizers, hand claps, and whistles came over the loudspeakers even though there was no one making those noises on stage. It made the songs sound good, but I couldn't help but wonder, "Couldn't you have hired a synth guy?" or "Couldn't the audience have provided the claps or the whistles?" When phantom instruments appear out of nowhere the set loses its authenticity, its rawness.
Something rings false because live music should always be...well live. It doesn't have to be perfect. No one expects it to sound exactly like the album. What we do expect is that it sounds like you. Not that it bothered anyone else in the crowd, who were perfectly happy to shimmy and shake and do their best Molly Ringwald impressions all over the dance floor.
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Looking impossibly young and very tired, Surfer Blood came on next. Opening their set with "Fast Jabroni" there was nothing speedy about these guys. It was as if someone let all the air out of their tires.
What should have been a set of fast paced Afro-beat infused beach pop came out only half speed, and there is nothing worse than watered down pop.. Perhaps they've been on the road too long, but the only person who looked like they had slept at all was their percussionist, Marcos Marchesani, whose long curly hair was a brown blur as he head banged along to the set.
The lack of energy took a toll on the crowd too. By the middle of the set, the place was three quarters empty, which was a real shame, because somewhere around the third to last song, Surfer Blood had a second wind. This five piece pulled themselves together and gave "Catholic Pagans" and "Swim(To Reach The End)" everything they had.
Lead singer J.P. Pitts stage dove into the tiny crowd and was hoisted around the room for one number and for the encore jumped onto the floor and rolled around in the stickiness with his microphone tightly clasped in his hand. It was a classic case of too little too late, but hopefully these guys will redeem themselves next time they come to town. Don't ignore your health, kids.