Concert Review: The Drums, April 26, Phoenix Concert Theatre

Perhaps the most intriguing element of The Drums’ charm is the intriguing discord between the dense, emotional subject matter of their lyrics and the consistently sunny sonic package they’re delivered in.

It’s a trend we have witnessed since the moment the Brooklyn indie-popsters first appeared on our radar with “Let’s Go Surfing,” that timeless ode to hopeless hedonism. Is that now-ubiquitous chorus lyric (“Oh mama / I wanna go surfing / Oh mama / I don’t care about nothing”) a gleeful affirmation of beachside liberation, or a tongue-in-cheek condemnation of wasted youth? The genius of The Drums is that it’s impossible to escape the notion that there’s something sinister lurking not far below the surface.

Singer Jonathan Pierce has claimed many times that the mixture of personalities in The Drums is too combustible for the band to survive long enough to build a true legacy, and as a healthy throng of fans found out last Friday night at Toronto’s Phoenix Concert Theatre, the band’s mercurial attitude extends into their live show, where, at various moments, it’s tough to gauge whether or not the band members view touring as their one true calling or a tedious chore.

Their decision on this world tour (in support of 2011’s lukewarm sophomore disc Portamento) to bring in two new lead-footed guitar players, relegating Pierce’s songwriting partner Jacob Graham (he of the swooping guitar theatrics) to back-of-stage keyboard duties, has drained much of the fun out of the band’s stage presence, and left Pierce’s (possibly) ironic, ‘80s-inspired dance moves as the sole star of the show.

The Drums’ lush and melodic catalogue is readymade for sing-alongs, yet Pierce has continued to fall victim to one of pop music’s most damning cardinal sins by failing to get over his penchant for deviating away from his golden vocal melodies. His constant vocal riffing spoiled the melodic payoffs of both “Me and the Moon” and “Book of Stories.”

Yet somehow, even if The Drums weren’t having any fun, you certainly couldn’t tell from the all-ages crowd, who boasted a seemingly never-ending supply of energy that kept them bopping wildly in unison throughout the 90-minute set—that is, when they weren’t taking brief timeouts to text updates to their friends (“I MISS YOUUUU!”) or capture videos of Pierce swaying alone on his private dancefloor.

Fortunately, The Drums saved their strongest moments for the set’s latter half—and most of them were the band’s darkest musical portraits. Steely, understated rocker “Days” and the gloriously minimalist power ballad “Down By the Water” were the main set highlights, and they combined to create just the right atmosphere for Portamento’s centerpiece, the stark and emotional synth-ballad “Searching For Heaven.”

And in the blink of an eye, the band kicked into the whistled intro of the set-closing “Let’s Go Surfing,” and it brought the house down: by sending us all homehappy, any frustrating affectations were instantly forgiven. Whether or not The Drums are happy themselves, well, that seems far less important when all you want to do is whistle.

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Posted on by guestwriter in Concerts

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