Concert Review: The Drums (and others) at Webster Hall: June 10, 2013
On Monday night, I almost saw a legend perform. You know your borough has arrived when Sir Paul McCartney plays there, as he did Saturday and Monday nights at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. As of one month ago, I was holding tickets – expensive tickets – to see the former Beatle live. It would have been memorable. Possibly historic. Maybe even, legen…wait for it…dary.
Instead I saw the Drums play Webster Hall, with support from AVAN LAVA and Pearl and the Beard. I chose a Brooklyn-based indie band playing a small club in the East Village over the knighted, Rock and Roll Hall of Famer, from the greatest band of all time. Did I make the correct decision? I don’t know. I know that I would have been going to see McCartney for the spectacle more than the music. I didn’t know that the show would be reviewed by the Wall Street Journal, and attended by Mayor Michael Bloomberg, but I did know that that’s the kind of night I’d be in for. Yesterday’s rebel is today’s knight, and McCartney – as good as he is – is not rock and roll anymore.
The Drums are rock and roll. I’d forgotten for a moment how much I love this band, especially live – there’s a reason I put their debut album in my lists for My 10 favorite albums by Brooklyn bands and My top 25 albums for 2010. Naturally, they did not disappoint on Monday night; this was the third time I’d seen them, and this was probably the best of the three excellent shows. From what I hear, McCartney did not disappoint either. He played for 2-1/2 hours, a shocking 30-something songs for the 70-year old, most of which were Beatles favorites or early-era Wings hits (full setlist here). So where was I while Sir Paul was entertaining the Mayor …
McCartney opened with some early Beatles pop hits, such as “Eight Days A Week” and “All My Loving”, while I watched indie-dance-electronic-pop band AVAN LAVA excite the crowd over at Webster Hall. Like those Beatles songs, AVAN LAVA does not make what you would call challenging music. In fact, this is probably the closest Webster Hall has ever come to hosting a disco band. AVAN LAVA takes the stage for one reason only – to have fun. When asked once what AVAN LAVA “is” lead singer TC answered, “a dance, a shameless celebration, and a good time.”
On this night, as they often do, the group was dressed entirely in white, jumping and sliding all over the stage while lights flashed, confetti blasted and the music pumped. It seemed that before each and every song lead singer TC implored the crowd to “dance!” Meanwhile, TC was flanked by two girls – additional “band members” who are added just for the live show – whose job it was to dance and jump and occasionally climb all over each other and TC. It was all in good fun, and the crowd was having a really good time, but this music and scene simply is not for me. After the show I was able to chat briefly with TC and keyboard drummer Andrew Schneider (yes, they have a man who drums onto a keyboard, but again only for live shows), both of whom seemed like nice, down to earth guys. I told them both that they put on a great show and I honestly meant it. These guys are crazy and wild and having a blast – if you like dance-pop even a little bit, they are a must-see act.
The next part of McCartney’s set probably would have been my least favorite, as it included some of the slower hits (Wings’ “Maybe I’m Amazed” and the Beatles’ “Blackbird” and “Your Mother Should Know”) and otherwise several songs with which I’m not familiar. Meanwhile, I had the misfortune of seeing a band I was completely unfamiliar with, Pearl and the Beard. At least with AVAN LAVA I had a sense of what to expect as they have been part of the indie scene for a little while now. I had no idea what to think when this odd (and odd-looking) folk-pop trio took the stage with a cello, guitar, and glockenspiel, among other instruments. Moreover, I have no idea what the Drums were thinking pairing these two bands as their supporting acts; there cannot be a single person on earth who likes both of these bands, given their diverging styles. I don’t love folk-pop music (or the recent popular obsession with it) but I can certainly enjoy a good indie folk-pop band when I hear one, such as Mumford & Sons, the Lumineers, and Iron & Wine. None of those bands excite me the way they do some people, but I wouldn’t change the station if I heard them playing either. During Pearl and the Beard (and by the way, how cheesy indie-folk-pop is that name??) I had to leave the room. (During which time I snuck downstairs into the Studio where I watched singer/guitarist Keaton Simons, one of the opening acts for Ryan Cabrera. You can watch that event in its entirety here.) To be fair, I appreciate their spirit – the trio brought nearly the same energy to their set that AVAN LAVA did, which is saying something. But imagine taking only the bad qualities from Mumford & Sons, Florence & the Machine and They Might Be Giants, mixing them together and forming a band. Congratulations, you’ve made yourself a Pearl and the Beard.
At around 10pm, out came Jonny Pierce and the Drums to deafening cheers from the crowd. We were ready. While Sir Paul was hitting the home stretch of his set with hit after popular hit, the Drums had the floor of Webster Hall shaking from the moment they stepped on stage all the way through to the final song. I can imagine most if not all of Barclays singing along as Macca played the following in order: Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da, Band on the Run, Back in the U.S.S.R., Let It Be, Live and Let Die, and finally, to close the main set, Hey Jude. At the same time, I have never been to a club show where the crowd sang along as much as they did Monday night. There are few small bands with as devoted a fan base as the Drums. Nearly every one of their songs are known well by each and every person at one of their gigs.
The second song was introduced by Jonny, as it always is, as being “about my dead best friend.” Such a morbid statement, and yet this is when the mayhem really began. “Best Friend” is the kind of song that has hundreds of people singing along, throwing their heads back and dancing, leaning into their best friends and shouting at the top of their lungs, “And every day, I waited for you // And every day, on the top of your car … ah ahhhh, ah ahhhh …”
One thing you never do at a Drums show is mosh, or bang into other people. There is a silent agreement among the crowd to dance, whether facing the stage, or a friend, or just the person standing next to you, you sing and dance (and sweat a lot). It’s not just because the music is a form of indie rock that borders on pop. After all, I’ve seen people mosh and bang at Matt & Kim shows. And the dancing is nothing like what you perhaps did when AVAN LAVA played – it’s completely reflective of Pierce’s moves on stage. There is something about the lyrics, the sing-along ease, and most of all Pierce’s dancing style that makes you – makes everyone – approach the Drums just a little differently. The band cites Joy Division and the Smiths as influences, and you can see in the way that Pierce moves that Ian Curtis and Morrissey have influenced his entire persona. (Meanwhile, Moz has revealed himself to be a Drums fan, which is itself amazing.) This is a serious band playing lighthearted music. Thinking about some bands I’ve already named, the Drums play with the carefree joy of Matt & Kim yet the lyrical and emotional depth of the National. A song about his dead best friend manages to become the kickoff to a celebration.
Back to the show, where there were many more moments of pure unadulterated joy. The Drums don’t always play every single one of their crowd pleasers – my first time seeing them live (Bowery Ballroom, 2011), they didn’t perform their biggest hit “Let’s Go Surfing.” On Monday night, which they kept celebrating as their return to New York City, no hit was left unplayed. In addition to “Let’s Go Surfing,” the band played “I Need a Doctor,” “Down by the Water,” “Money“, “Book of Revelation,” “Hard to Love,” “I Felt Stupid” (their oldest song, which got the biggest cheer from the crowd) and many others. The set reached its apex when “Forever and Ever, Amen” and “Days” were played back-to-back, which is the moment that I realized that I’d never seen Webster Hall – or any similar venue – quite like this. I literally believe that there wasn’t a person in the room who wasn’t singing “Forever and Ever” and I have never felt a floor shake like it did during “Days.”
If it seems like I’m gushing, it’s because I am. The consensus feeling among anyone who sees the Drums perform is “wow I love Jonny Pierce.” It would be so easy to file them away as just another indie pop/rock band, but take my word for it – they aren’t. This is a band that is talented, interesting, and knows exactly what it wants to achieve musically and visually. And they put on a transcendent show, forever and ever and ever and ever …
There is literally too much to do on any given night in New York City (including Brooklyn!), too much great music to choose from. How does one make a decision between two fun indie bands playing the same night (I’m looking at you Two Door Cinema Club and the Naked & Famous, both playing here October 10), let alone between a fun, sweaty, evening and a legendary one? If I had to make the decision again … I still don’t know. McCartney gave the Barclays crowd two separate encores, the final one consisting of Yesterday, Helter Skelter, Golden Slumbers, Carry That Weight, and The End. I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I’m very sorry to have missed that. When does the cloning begin?