“Let’s just have a good time tonight,” said Jonny Pierce, the singer of the Drums, one song into a sold-out show at the Great American Music Hall on Saturday. He paused briefly to let the applause fill an appropriate amount of space and added, “This next song is about a dead person.”
There may have been some intentional, practiced irony at play, but the space between those two statements is the key to everything that is great about the Drums. Sure, Pierce has one of the most perfect, near angelic voices in pop music – witness enraptured fans, hands out toward the stage, looking for a hold – but more importantly, he also has one of the best deadpans.
When he’s performing, his facial expressions vary more in intensity than emotion. If you catch him smiling, it’s inward. Happy? Sad? Blah. When the band is playing bright, uptempo, yet often melancholic music, and the lyrics send conflicting cues on how to feel, the singer seems careful to pivot just right, not tip his hand.
After singing “Book of Revelation” off of the recent album Portamento, which includes the lines “I’ve seen the world and there’s no Heaven and no Hell” and “I believe when we die we die, so let me love you tonight,” Pierce said, “That last song was really important to me, so to hear you guys singing that...thank you.”
On stage, The Drums* won’t tell you how to feel about typical pop topics like love and heartbreak anymore than less typical ones like, say, being an atheist and having an existential crisis, but Pierce is seemingly happy to show what you can do in the mean time, as he’s otherwise constantly moving about the stage, calmly dancing with his own confusion.
Openers: Part Time recalled a less drugged out (or just more doobied) version of Ariel Pink, but that may have just been the lead singer’s technicolor dream coat. Also on the style watch, the drummer looked like one of Biff’s lackeys in Back to the Future (but that may have just been the glasses.)
Craft Spells’ Justin Paul Vallesteros gave a shout out to Stockton, where he started the band before relocating to Seattle. Someone in the crowd said he’d “discovered the band last year, and it turned out to be the perfect summer soundtrack.” Based on the way that the intro to “After the Moment” – from last year’s “Idle Labor” – was recognized with cheers, he wasn’t the only one that feeling that way. And given how well new tracks "Warmth" and "Still Left With Me" were live, it could be the soundtrack for this summer as well.
*Truth is the whole band has deadpan solidarity, particularly co-founder Jacob Graham who, whether playing keys or conducting a bank of analog synth – as he did for the encore opener “Searching for Heaven” – has an ever-present, captivating stillness.