No one has felt the full brutality of the fickle music industry like The Drums. Hyped to within an inch of their lives before they released their breakthrough single, the ’80s surf-pop inflected Let’s Go Surfing, they were a top tip for 2010 and made it to the top five in BBC’s Sound Of 2010 poll. Their big moment should have come with the release of their self titled debut last June. It did well enough, peaking at Number 16, which label Moshi Moshi would have been very pleased with indeed. But the critics had turned and it was largely derided, their debut viewed as fluffy and light.
Fifteen months later they’re back with a follow-up, and they’re cautiously testing the water with a series of small shows across three consecutive nights in London. Tonight’s the first, but they show no sign of first night nerves.
Banter is kept to a minimum, with the New Yorkers knuckling down to business straight away. New album Portomento was released today and makes up around half of the set, and while both albums sit side by side musically, the lyrics couldn’t be further removed. Singer Jonathan Pierce, clad in a black vest and red baseball jacket, looks every inch the ’80s indie star; a look accentuated by coolly confident Ian Curtis-esque jigs and impassioned Morrissey hand flaps. He feels every word, and it’s hardly surprising, as he looked to his childhood, as a member of a Pentecostal church, for inspiration. The youthful naivety and excitement of their debut has been replaced with something a little more heavyweight; now an affirmed atheist, Pierce’s themes this time around are darker than the likes of Forever And Ever and Let’s Go Surfing, and the sound a little more metallic and industrial – and it’s all the better for it.
Channelling the likes of The Cure, Joy Division and Orange Juice, there’s still plenty for fans of their first record to love, with surf guitars, upbeat melodies and pouted vocals, it’s just a bit more grown up now.
Old favourites Me And The Moon and Best Friend go down a storm, but it’s Portomento’s If He Likes It Let Him Do It, Money and Book Of Revelation that really stand out tonight, and as he twists his way around the stage, staring blankly at the topless, lager waving crowd surfers, Pierce gives the game away, allowing a contented, almost smug grin to emerge; he knows they’ve got it right this time. He gives an incredibly tight performance, drenched in enthusiasm and earns the rare accolade of having a voice that sounds infinitely better live than on record.
They leave the stage refusing to pander to the cries for Let’s Go Surfing; an unpopular move that’s perhaps symbolic of where The Drums are right now. Happy to put the past behind them, they’ve defied their critics to come back with something stronger, which rather belatedly lives up to the hype.