There’s nothing wrong with posing. It’s been part of pop since Robert Johnson was snapped with a cigarette in his mouth; the New Romantics made a movement out of it; and where would Lady Gaga be without her stylists? The problem is when posing predominates to the detriment of everything else, as with The Drums.
The New York four-piece are enamoured of both the teenage innocence of 1960s American chart music and the wan disposition of 1980s British indie. At the first of two shows at Heaven – often a place where much-hyped bands play to initiates before bringing their sound to the masses – the group’s jittery delicacy was somewhat spoiled, inevitably, by overloud drums. But more wearying were their on-stage affectations. It was hard to tell if they were a send-up or deadly serious.
Frontman Jonathan Pierce stretched on tiptoes like the prodigy who is eager to please, leaned archly from side to side and minced around with his microphone. He sang in a halting quaver, drawing out the syllables: “I need fuh-huh-hur-huh-hun in my li-iii-iii-iii-ife.” One of the guitarists (there are two and no bassist to accentuate the trebly tone) swung a tambourine with exaggeratedly wind-milling arms throughout “Best Friend”. Whatever his intention, it came across as a Brooklyn savant’s mickey-take of the Age of Aquarius, and was irritating rather than amusing.
The gig passed by with a catchily Strokesian clatter. A suspicion lingers, however, that The Drums are too gimlet-eyed to be entirely credible indie evangelists, and Pierce, apparently a melancholy soul, has admitted: “The person who said everything I ever wanted to say is Morrissey.” To which, one might reply, what have you to add?
The Smiths doing spindly Beach Boys pop isn’t a bad shtick, and the pale synths that decorated the set-closing “Forever and Ever Amen” would be touching in any era. Yet it was only in the encore, during the wistful chug of “Let’s Go Surfing” and the suitably overblown tearjerker “Down by the Water”, that The Drums felt wholly plausible. I was left with the impression of a band caught between splashing about in the shallows of their look-at-me stylings and summoning the courage to ride the big breakers of emotion that well up in their best songs.
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