The Drums Pound Out a Primo Sunday Night Set at The Observatory

Jonny Pierce of The Drums
Jonny Pierce of The Drums
Kim Conlan

The Drums
with Bleach Bone, Sad Girl
The Observatory
2/28/16

By 9:30pm, fog machines on stage are pumping thick through deep red and blue light to give a mystical scene on set for the Brooklyn-based duo, The Drums.
Brooding anticipation bubbles from an almost sold out attendance. The venue is full, but not quite packed, due to the fact The Drums have split their time up between this Sunday show, and another here at the Observatory on Tuesday. Despite the bit of extra space, the audience members still create close quarters by squeezing as tight to the stage as possible, leaving no gaps in the pit area.

Around 10 p.m., the entire band enters, and the house loses it. All but one member, lead singer Jonny Pierce, has taken his place, and the audience is salivating, desperately asking, “Where’s Jonny? Where is Jonny?” Finally he appears, making the ensemble complete, and the music begins. Despite the fact that The Drums are led by the two key members, Jonny Pierce (vocals) and Jacob Graham (synth), the additional accompaniment of Jonny Aries on bass, Rene Perez on guitar, and Danny Lee Allen on drums is solid and provides that necessary instrumentation to fill out the belly of these tracks.

At first listen, they are a bit difficult to place musically, with a strange mix of European pop, synth, and punk influences, mixed with traditional American rhythm and blues. But it is the choice of timbre that makes them more modern, following the synthesized style of the pioneers that inspired them like Wendy Carlos Williams and Kraftwerk. Mix that with the pop vocal style of The Shangri-Las and Beach Boys, and this musical hybrid is an eclectic entity that is intriguing to watch. Something about the members of the group is slightly androgynous, with distinct East Coast style that fits will with this Santa Ana crowd. They are cool on the surface, but also seem to have an underlying seriousness to their personalities.

Despite being the main composer of the group, on stage, Graham does not draw attention to himself, almost fortifying his separation of space by using his synth modular rig as a small barrier. He is somber and collected, quite the opposite of the attitude of Jonny. The way the singer moves is open and elegant and arabesque, and he loves the love he is getting from his fans and reflecting it back to them. It is amazing to witness the whole house invigorated, singing along to every word. After a few songs to settle in place, Jonny then takes a moment to engage this SoCal crowd, stating, “We’ve been a band for eight years, and we go other places—they don’t always know who we are, but here in California…” He trails off as a huge response flares from the crowd and drowns out anything else he may have said. All the individuals in attendance seem to connect, relate, and crave this man. In response to the singing along, Jonny says he loves it, and “the whole point of this band is for you to feel worth in yourself.”

Jacob Graham of The Drums
Jacob Graham of The Drums
Kim Conlan

Pulsing rhythms from the five-piece makes hips shift from side to side.
Jonny stands at the front edge of the stage with his mic stand setup, up on his platform, close to his fans, absorbing the energy and reflecting it back ten-fold.
Occasionally he releases the microphone and meanders from one side of the stage to the other, his arms and hands motioning in relation to the words he’s singing in his melodic, smooth, and at times breathy tone that is able to reach angelic heights.
While the tone of the Fender guitar projects a beautiful type of melancholy, the backbone of the ensemble is the beat of the drum, mixed with the steady undertones of the bass, laced with the synthesized ever-changing timbre of Graham’s musical additions. As the set continues, they hold a rapid tempo racing to the end, and the energy doesn’t wane.

Even when the music slows for the final song of the main set, “Wild Geese,” Jonny’s body remains moving at a double-time tempo. The arpeggiating synth is celestial and sends a sweet nostalgia over the audience. Once the band completes their song and makes their exit, the crowd immediately calls out, chanting the familiar, “one more song,” to which The Drums happily oblige. A thundering cry erupts as the group returns to stage, and after a pause, fuzzy synth fizzles from the PA, and the music strikes again and into the oldie, “Best Friend.” One the ledge, Jonny extends his arm out with the mouth of the mic facing out towards the audience. They sing his part of the chorus, never missing a syllable. The peak of the night is during the major hit track, “Let’s Go Surfing,” where people let completely loose into havoc.

The Drums did not disappoint, with a full list of songs to play from their “Portamento” and “Encyclopedia” albums, followed by an intimate encore of early fan favorites from their original self-titled EP. Lights dim to black with a single spotlight on Jonny. The crowd chants the words to the final song of the evening, “If you fall asleep down by the water, baby I’ll carry you all the way home.”

Set List
Bell Laboratories
I Can’t Pretend
What You Were
Days
Book of Revelation
We Tried
If He Likes It Let Him Do It
The Future
I Hope Time Doesn’t Change Him
I Need a Doctor
How It Ended
Forever and Ever Amen
Wild Geese

Encore
Best Friend
Kiss Me Again
Let’s Go Surfing
Down By the Water


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