Florida's new favorite sons Surfer Blood teamed up with Brooklyn rookies The Drums to transform Lincoln Hall into the Church of the Holy Grail Reverb Pedal this past Thursday, and RFC made it to the later show to snap some pictures (check the full gallery after the jump) and take in the cavernous guitar tones ringing through the facsimile flying buttresses. Surfer Blood headlined the earlier all-ages iteration of the show at 7 p.m., but The Drums took top billing for the 10 p.m. show, so we'll grant them proper play as the headliner here.
First, though, let's talk Surfer Blood. As I noted when I wrote up a preview for this show earlier in the week, the boys from West Palm Beach have just about locked up my nomination for 2010's best new indie band. However, I'm also gonna be the first to admit that they didn't get there by way of their live show.
Thankfully, though, Thursday found Surfer Blood moving right along in the process of working the kinks out of their live show. They've tightened up considerably since I watched them dither through a set at Schubas six months ago, and they even lathered a bit more of that sweet, sweet reverb on JP's evolving live voice, which contained at least fifty percent less Kermit factor this time around. JP even felt comfortable enough to shed his guitar during "Take It Easy" and march around saluting like a sort of effeminate Führer — and I know that sounds bizarre, but it actually sold the song pretty well. Finally, the group spun out a couple of solid new songs — a catchy collage of tumbling guitar harmonies and stripped-down vocal choruses called "I'm Not Ready" and a drone-y number that bears the cryptic title "New Song," according to the setlist. (You can check out a live in-studio version of I'm Not Ready" over at Halfway House Music.)
About a half hour after the last crunching feedback of Surfer Blood's set-closer "Anchorage" died out, The Drums took the stage to serve up some songs from their June self-titled debut — a sweetly psychedelic slice of New York new-wave retro that I like slightly less than Astro Coast, but still enjoyed the hell out of for a couple months. I have to admit, though, I've never seen so much as a YouTube clip of The Drums performing live, and they caught me totally off-guard with the menacing, punkish vibes they exude live — and with how deeply they detriment their wide-eyed, innoxious bedroom dance music by doing so.
Granted, singer Jonathan Pierce makes a great photo-op while he preens and swoons like a gangly, pubescent Jagger on ecstasy. Still, some of us still truck out to shows not only to watch the frontman whip his bangs and court the girls in the front row, but to hear passable versions of songs we've grown to like. Contrary to that impulse, the Drums struck a frown across my visage the moment they took the stage and I counted the vocal mics — one. That's right, no backup vocals — and if you've spent much time with The Drums, you know that just sucks. Most of the best moments on that album — the "Down, down, baby, down by the rollercoaster" part from "Let's Go Surfing," the bracing pre-chorus from "Book of Stories," pretty much all of "Down By The Water" — depend on those tentative, disarming harmony vocals in the back.
Instead, we got Pierce's extra-gritty take on his album vocals — and, y'know, you just can't sell a Billy Idol sneer when you're singing lines like, "I need fun fun fun in my life, and I need life in my fun fun fun." Besides that, The Drums managed to work up a shrill, clattering mess of a live mix that pretty much sounded like someone dropped a mic and a cup of ball bearings in an empty oil drum and kicked it down a hill. I mean, you know it's bad when you're listening to songs you've heard two or three dozen times, struggling to pick a guitar line out of the murk and catching strange, modal overtones instead. (Maybe it's because they consider themselves too cool to include a bass player — what is up with that lately in indie rock? Looking at you, Best Coast.)
Still, Surfer Blood's set salvaged the show's worth, and The Drums did at least manage to look cool (see photos below for evidence). Nevertheless, I can't help but hope that, sometime in the future, the Brooklyn up-and-comers learn to get on with the fainting onstage already and channel some of that enthusiasm back into their music.