Bowery Ballroom/Music Hall of Williamsburg
Better than: Staying home wondering why 30 Rock isn’t on but Whitney is.
When I was a little kid, my parents used to have dinner parties that would always devolve into dancing by the second half of the evening. I’d sneak downstairs to watch as the attendees looked like they were pretending to be extras in the party scenes from Less Than Zero and sad synthpop came through the speakers. I flashed back to this scene thanks to half the crowd at the Drums’ two shows this week: An army of Morrissey wannabes in high-and-tight haircuts and blouses, all mimicking Jonathan Pierce’s slightly fey finger-snapping and hip-swinging.
The other half of the crowd consisted of girls looking like they came straight off the set of Gossip Girl, the teen drama that might very well have been where they heard about the band in the first place. This dichotomy represents the band well; the Drums’ new album, Portamento, is rooted in New Wave sounds and influences like New Order, Orange Juice, and other seminal bands from when my parents were still cool enough to have dance parties, but their first album lumped them in with Surfer Blood and other beach-rock buzzbands featured on CW shows. I’ll be honest: I had written them off after their self-titled debut for just that reason. But after realizing they’d signed with our Best New York-Based Record Label Frenchkiss Records, I decided to give them another chance. I’m glad I did.
Portamento is equal parts dance music, crying-alone music, and romantic-hope music. This sounds like it might not translate into a good live show, but lead singer Jonathan Pierce manages to meld all those emotions into a weirdly personal experience. Whether he was singing about the end of the world forcing people into each others arms in the chipper standout “Book of Revelations” or caving in to a lover’s request on the haunting “If He Likes It Let Him Do It,” he delivered a performance that catered to both halves of the audience. Gone was the beachy vibe of their first album; instead, every song was tinged with percussive bass, enough synth to remind you of the past, and Pierce’s melancholy moan, which slipped into a higher register for the catchy choruses. By the end of both nights, that mix was enough to shed inhibitions and start a dance party, one where the music geeks and the popular girls weren’t cliquing off, but instead operated as an energetic whole.
Critical bias: I am a huge fan of Frenchkiss’s output, but I wasn’t the one who chose them for Best New York Label—someone else in the office felt the same way.
Overheard: “We didn’t know they were 18!”—two gentlemen who were removed for buying drinks for some underage girls. (Gotta watch out at those 18+ shows!)
Random notebook dump: Hey Bowery Ballroom, don’t turn the heat on just yet! It’s still 60 degrees outside!