Emerging from relative obscurity from the ashes of short-lived band Elkland, New York indie pop group The Drums released an EP in 2009 and a full-length album this year, attracting the attention of alt-music kingmakers NME and the website Pitchfork. A little kind press can still go a long away; in channeling refreshingly retro post-punk ethos from another era, The Drums have accrued tremendous buzz that transcends their limited output, and I was flummoxed by the number of fans who turned out for Saturday’s performance at Grand Central in downtown Miami.
The last time I visited this terrific venue, another New York indie band, the Pains of Being Pure at Heart, performed a short set to a small contingent of admirers. But it was our own Surfer Blood who headlined the show and drew the wildest crowd. Last night, Surfer Blood was on the bill too, playing prior to the Drums in something of a coheadlining capacity. Only this time, there was no question which act deserved to be playing last, with The Drums performing an hour of music few attendees will forget.
The concert, organized by top Miami promoter Poplife, began with impressive Arizona band The Young Friends. Though I only caught the tail end of their set (Apparently, when Grand Central says a 7 p.m. start, they mean a 7 p.m. start), they sound almost exactly like The Drums, only with more reverb, making them a perfectly appropriate choice for an opener.
Surfer Blood performed next, and it was much stronger outing than their previous, disastrous appearance at the venue, which I reviewed on this site back in June. Recent signees to Warner Brothers, Surfer Blood has matured quite a bit in three months, even if its audience has not: Slanting very young, the stage-hugging crowd was not unlike that at a boy band concert from the ’90s, with clusters of underage girls climbing onto the stage and blowing bubbles.
Nothing could really prepare this crowd for The Drums’ emotional onslaught. Evident on their recorded output, the group’s influences – The Smiths, Joy Division, Orange Juice and the rest of the heart-on-sleeve pre-emo pantheon – came alive even clearer in its live set. The rhythm section played faultlessly, but the band’s appeal is all about lead singer Jonathan Pierce, who sings every line with the apocalyptic gusto of an adolescent’s first heartbreak. When he asks, “How will I survive?” in the singable refrain of the ironically upbeat mourning song “Best Friend,” one is inclined to take it seriously. In another song, Pierce pantomimes slitting his throat, a result, of course, of a breakup. His protracted vocals and melodramatic gesticulations link him to both to the effete glamour of Morrissey and especially the most famous suicidal front man in indie rock, Joy Division’s Ian Curtis. Life might be getting harder and duller as Pierce gets older, as he sings another memorable track, but here’s hoping he doesn’t go the way of his most prominent influence.