Live Review: The Drums at Neumos 7/17

Live Reviews
07/20/2017
Matthew Howland
all photos by Bebe Labree Besch (view set)

The Drums played a packed Neumos on July 17th, with frontman Jonny Pierce giving a spirited rendition of tracks from across The Drums discography. The Seattle show was the kickoff to an extensive tour for the band, which goes on until the end of the year, and includes a lengthy stint in Europe. A handful of talented bands will open the dates, including Ne-Hi and Hoops. If the Neumos show was indicative, Pierce & co. will continue to put on a dynamic stage show, echoing a slate of New Wave greats while giving a needed face lift to '80s pop/punk tropes.

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NYC-via-Nashville artist Sophie Allison opened the show, under the moniker of Soccer Mommy. Joined by a quite good band for her live show, Allison spotlighted material from the forthcoming Collection EP, which will be released on Fat Possum Records. Though just 19 years old, Allison has fast matured as a songwriter, her tight song structures, and wistful harmonies translating well to the live stage. It was likely many audience members' introductions to Allison's music, but she demonstrated that she is a performer well worth watching.

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The eponymous Stef Chura acted as the second act on the bill, delivering an intense, mercurial set. Culling primarily from her 2017 record Messes, Chura's singular voice acted as the musical anchor to her particular style of jagged indie rock. Though better writers have past lamented the difficulty of describing Chura's voice, it struck midway between the off-kilter energy of the great Kristin Hersh and the sharp edges of Television's Tom Verlaine. Chura's vocal jumps were matched by precise, tightly wound guitar, bass, and drums, all of which veered between sensitive and bubbling over.

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Following a Drums-curated soundtrack which included Kraftwerk and Deerhunter, The Drums took the stage in dramatic fashion, all clad in black. Jonny Pierce arrived a minute later, wearing a slim Hawaiian shirt over what appeared to be a black sports jersey, alone at the front of the stage. The crowd, which was predominantly female and femme males, audibly delighted at every gesture, dance move, and vocal coo which Pierce emitted. Even as a mosh pit broke out amidst the smaller bro contingent of the crowd, the focus and energy remained on Pierce, who was meanwhile busy spinning and crooning.

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The persona of Jonny Pierce remains quite interesting for how it plays with dualities. At once fey and sinister, rhapsodic and depressed, Pierce makes what is ostensibly pop music about human suffering. Even on the lighter Drums tracks, such as early hit "Let's Go Surfing," the tone of the song is transformed by Pierce's live performance, which constantly veers between borders of light and dark. Especially when accompanied by the growing mosh pit, Pierce took on a demonic presence, pacing around the Neumos stage and staring down into the audience. In moments like this, Pierce could resemble a gay, internet-saturated Ian Curtis, certainly more punk than his sound would sometimes suggest.

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Though the subject matter of his most popular songs could be easily pigeon-holed ("the one about surfing," "the one about his friend who died," "the one about money or lack thereof," all of which were played during the set), Pierce's style and depth of performance adds complexity and pathos to what could be simple narratives. Material from the recently released Abysmal Thoughts blended in seamlessly with earlier cuts, the tousled, attractive, and precise band further bolstering Pierce's sound. Overall, the set was a reassertion of The Drums's talent, and of Pierce's status as a necessary sex symbol for a younger audience.

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