Live Review: The Drums with Dot Dash and Part Time at Black Cat, Washington DC – 21st April 2012

By on Wednesday, 25th April 2012 at 2:00 pm

(Editor’s note: lighting was horrible for most of the night, so apologies on the quality of the photos on here.)

I have wistful memories of the first time I saw the Drums. It was 2 years ago at the 9:30 Club, co-headlining with then flavour of the month band Surfer Blood. Before that, I did a very candid interview with Jonny Pierce and then drummer Connor Hanwick at a Caribbean café across the way. It’s with much disgust that I report to you that the airy, tropical-themed café has now been replaced with a sports bar with dodgy, blacked out windows. Also, the Drums have undergone another line-up change: Hanwick has been replaced and live, the band sports not just one but two guitarists, leaving Jacob Graham free to fiddle with a wide selection of synthesisers, running from the more modern and traditional-looking to an impressive wall of holes reminding me of this photo on Delphic’s MySpace. And you thought the Drums were just a ‘simple’ surf pop band? Oh, how wrong you are… Washington was loud and proud Saturday night as we played host to the Drums’ first date on their current North American tour.

First opening band Dot Dash were a pleasant surprise. They never told us where they were from, so I had to find out from their Facebook that they’re actually a local band who was very thankful to the Drums’ manager for having them on the bill. Generally speaking, bands we go to see don’t wear wedding rings. They’re just not old enough. So it was surprising to see opening for the Drums was this band that made me think of an American Stone Roses, even comparable to age with Ian Brown and co. Their band name belies the complexity of their music. I loved the way the guitars and drums melded effortlessly; the bass player wins extra points with his sunglasses that made him look like a mod. I wasn’t, however, in love with the lyrics: how does “I don’t know why” repeated many, many times as a chorus strike you? Still, if you can’t have the Stone Roses, it’s pretty nice to know you’ve got a local backup.

Note to bands: if you want us to photograph you, then for heaven’s sakes, make sure you turn on the light. We don’t need blinding lights, but I knew as soon as the Part Time lead singer said, “turn down the lights” because he felt self-conscious, none of us would have a prayer in photographing them with any justice. So I’ll just have to describe them to you in words. Singer – long unkempt hair, leather jacket, animal print shirt and torn jeans. Guitarist with synthesiser – looked like he just stepped off the set of Miami Vice with t-shirt and white suit jacket. Bass player – straight from Bay City Rollers, including plaid shirt and hat. Other synthesiser player – guy next door (and I couldn’t really see well that far on the other side of the stage, sorry). Drummer – playing his heart out but with a very limited drum kit augmented by a fancy pants electronic drum pad. Part Time’s style is wonky new wave; they’re signed to Mexican Summer, who have also signed Best Coast, if that helps any.

When the Drums first appeared on the blogosphere with ‘Let’s Go Surfing’, some pundits were comparing them to the Smiths. I couldn’t see that at all; except for Morrissey and Jonny Pierce’s mutual love of films, there seemed to be nothing else in common between the two bands. Then it all became clear at this Black Cat show. We’ll never know – or at least not know for a long time, I think –but I get the vibe that Pierce and Graham’s friendship is as strong as Morrissey and Marr’s was back in the day. Creative differences have caused flight from this band twice already, yet Pierce and Graham remain intact and feel like the bedrock of the Drums. Further, if you examine the lyrics, they’re pretty dark. ‘I Need a Doctor’ was explained by Pierce as “this is a song about being mentally ill”. Not what you’d associate with sunny, poppy melodies. And just who was singing gaily about ‘Cemetry Gates’?

The Cat has a much smaller stage than the 9:30, yet despite the intimacy, the energy was a lot higher for this gig. This gig was also sold out, but I definitely did not expect the moshers, who several times threw me and my middle right into the hard metallic edge of the stage (ouch). There were so many great moments to the Drums’ set that I would have gladly suffered similar ‘inconveniences’ to see them again. Case in point: Chairlift had a sold out set of their own, down the street at U Street Music Hall, and came over as the Drums’ guests after they were done playing their show. Pierce was beside himself, saying it was such a happy occasion having friends in the audience. Caroline Polachek even bounded on the stage with a huge grin on her face to help Pierce sing out the end of ‘Forever and Ever Amen’, after which Pierce commented, smiling broadly, “this is just a lovely, lovely night”. (I know the photo is blurry, I had no advance warning she’d jump onstage!)

The new line-up sounds very tight, showing mastery with upbeat numbers (‘Best Friends’, ‘Me and the Moon’, ‘Book of Stories’) and slower ones that I’m guessing the iPod generation make out to (‘Days’, ‘Down with the Water’). They left us with ‘Let’s Go Surfing’, the hit they left out at the 9:30 but rewarded the crowd with the ultimate summer song – in the middle of April – to close out the night.

After the cut: the Drums’ set list.

The Drums Set List

What You Were
Best Friend
Me and the Moon
If He Likes It Let Him Do It
Book of Stories
How It Ended
I Need a Doctor
Book of Revelations
Down by the Water
Searching for Heaven (Jonny Pierce and Jacob Graham only)
The Future
Let’s Go Surfing

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[…] DC’s own Dot Dash – who I caught supporting the Drums in April 2012, then Ash in November 2012 – released their third album ‘Half-Remembered Dream’ […]

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