It was hard to resist the urge to pull out the smartphone and repeatedly check the Drums’ Wikipedia page for confirmation of the band’s place of origin during Sunday night’s show at the Black Cat. Ohio? Really? Not England? Or even Sweden? There must be some mistake.
It’s not just that the five-piece group sounds like a glossy carbon copy of New Order or the Cure. It’s that its members also look like they were peeled off the cover of NME magazine. And then there was the breathless manner in which singer Jonathan Pierce constantly thanked “Washington, D.C.!” as if he’d traveled across an ocean, not down a turnpike, to get to the city.
Pierce was the focal point for the entirety of the band’s hour-plus set, the only one of the five members who wasn’t glued to his post. He traipsed around the stage, awkwardly flung his left arm while singing and generally behaved like someone who has watched too many Smiths videos for his own good. It was a bit clumsy but also endearing.There was nothing clumsy about the band’s songs, though. On last year’s self-titled debut and the recent “Portamento,” the Drums have proven to be a retro-pop band of extreme precision, with compact songs featuring sweetly sung vocals with the exact factory-recommended levels of reverb.
The music doesn’t contain many (any?) surprises, but that’s basically the point. Like most of the band’s best songs, “Money” succeeded thanks to nimble bass playing by Myles Matheny. (The band’s name obscures the fact that his instrument is the most important in its arsenal.) Pierce’s playful falsetto fit the simple chorus (“I want to buy you something but I don’t have any money / No, I don’t have any money”), but his lyrics were the one place where the band showed some depth.“
This song is about my dead best friend,” he proclaimed before “Best Friend,” a song with serious subject matter that was no less musically jaunty than the rest. Death is a running lyrical theme throughout “Portamento,” but it didn’t darken the mood of Sunday’s show. The been-there, done-that (specifically London, 1987) vibe was impossible to escape, but for younger fans — and most of the hands grasping at Pierce had big, black Xs on them — the Drums are a nice enough gateway to the past.