Live Music + Gig Reviews

The Drums @ KOKO, London

27 October 2009

Just before The Drums take to the stage in Camden’s dingy Barfly, they assemble at the bottom of the stairs, the door leading out into the crowd slightly ajar.

Amongst the retro sports jackets, buttoned up shirts and floppy fringes, lead singer Jonathan Pierce is calmly sipping from a mug of hot liquid. It’s not exactly the sight you expect to see when a much-hyped and ridiculously young band are about to perform in front of what looks like about a hundred A&R guys.

But then very little of what follows is what you expected to see. For one, any notion of studied cool or artful detachment is debunked after about 10 seconds of opener Best Friend. As Pierce flits about the stage like a hyperactive drama student, guitarist Jacob Graham starts to work on an unsuspecting tambourine, moving it away from his body at all times, whilst simultaneously trying to keep up with it, thwacking it every now and then for good measure. To Pierce’s left are two female backing singers, both dressed identically in 1960s-style halter-neck tops.

It’s as if we’ve suddenly been invaded by the cast of Grease, only with a curious mix of Morrissey in Pierce’s mannerisms. For one, he gets rid of the mic stand immediately, instead choosing to stride the width of the stage or lean out into the front row, gesticulating or thrashing the microphone wire. He gets wrapped up easily in the songs, sweeping his arms up and down as the synth rises in The Cure-esque Submarine and running feverishly on the spot during a frantic Saddest Summer.

For most of the short set it’s difficult not to look at him. It helps that they have an undeniably strong set of songs, the majority of which are taken from recent EP Summertime. Make You Mine is a glorious mix of do-wop handclaps, call and response vocals and a spindling guitar line that’s pure rockabilly. Don’t Be A Jerk, Johnny benefits from having the female backing singers present, as Pierce’s charmless lyric of “You used to be so pretty/ Now your just tragic” is countered by the title being sung back at him through a sweet smile.

Recent single Let’s Go Surfing is the only song to really get the crowd involved, its ridiculously catchy mix of sun-drenched melody and wet-weather disdain causing a brief outbreak of pogoing. It does highlight, however, a slight problem with the live set-up in that it’s easy to hear some perfectly produced whistles, just as it was obvious to hear some extra keyboards and beats in the other songs. Could it be possible that our group of young hopefuls might be pulling an X-Factor-style backing track smokescreen? Not that it should matter really. The stage is barely big enough for the six people already there; factor in an extra man and a keyboard and you’re probably looking at some injuries to the front row.

The gig ends with a new song, entitled Music. Over a racing beat that builds to a feverish crescendo, it could well be the song that breaks them into the charts, a scenario that suits their obvious way with a melody. By this point Pierce is red faced, arms flailing about like a madman. After a brief thank you, they’re off, leaving a crowd of A&R guys frantically messaging whoever it takes to lure this band away from Moshi Moshi.

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