The Drums shared an intimate experience, rather than a basic performance, with its audience at its Nov. 16 gig at the Black Cat.
At the casual and well-worn venue, there was little space between the performers on stage and the audience on the floor. The intimacy of the Black Cat on 14th Street perfectly reinforced the nostalgic vibe and message of the band, on tour for its new album, “Abysmal Thoughts.”
The location itself is decorated with comfortable, grungy decor, resembling an interactive museum exhibit of the ’90s rather than a concert venue. Handwritten chalk menus, old band posters and vintage pinball machines line the walls, making the venue feel like a well-preserved time capsule.
Quietly taking the stage, the members of opening act Methyl Ethel from Perth, Australia, picked up their instruments and began their set without introduction. Wearing baggy old T-shirts, turtlenecks and high-waisted pants, they clearly fit in with this snapshot of the past. Toward the end of their set, the band’s frontman, Jake Webb, told the audience that they were excited to be in Washington, D.C., performing their last show in the U.S. tour before returning home to Australia.
“But we’ll get on with this,” Webb said, “so The Drums can come on.”
After a total of 45 minutes, Methyl Ethel’s members simply put down their instruments, waved to the audience and disappeared backstage.
Previously calm and collected, the audience began to buzz with energy and excitement as employees reset the stage for the main event. Almost every time someone appeared to move a mic or check an instrument, there were hoots or hollers from audience members who could not hold back their excitement.
Finally taking the stage, The Drums wasted no time; the drummer started tapping a beat before the lead singer, Jonny Pierce, even reached the microphone.
Dressed in an old, blue-collar jumpsuit with the album title scrawled across the back, Pierce was ready to move. He could not stand still while the band played, constantly dancing from one end of the stage to the other as the band knocked out its first song, “What You Were,” from its 2011 album, “Portamento.”
Having released its first EP in 2009, The Drums has been making music for nearly 10 years, but the band’s members have changed frequently. The only member who has remained every step of the way is Pierce himself, who takes full credit for the writing and producing of the band’s latest project.
Though both Pierce’s jumpsuit and the band’s drum set boasted the title “Abysmal Thoughts,” the band was unafraid to play music from previous albums, to the delight of the audience. Cheering with hands in the air and swaying together, the audience erupted with sounds of excitement at the start of each new song and sang with so much exuberance that from time to time even Pierce had to pause and listen.
“I’m in such a good mood today,” Pierce said at one point between songs. “I just feel great. But you guys seem like you’re feeling great, too, so we’ll feel great together.”
Pierce seemed less to be putting on a show as he did to be sharing his thoughts and feelings with the audience through music. Everyone was so committed to the experience that it came as a shock when the band, following a rendition of “Blood Under My Belt” — the first single from “Abysmal Thoughts” — thanked the audience and disappeared from the stage. Much to everyone’s delight, however, the band members returned for an enthusiastic encore.
Dropping his mic about halfway through the second set, Pierce took the opportunity to talk to the audience.
“Every song was like a therapy session,” Pierce said, speaking to the experience of writing and producing the album. Pierce further explained that rather than looking outward and drawing inspiration from other people for “Abysmal Thoughts,” he looked inward and dug deeply, hoping these songs would reflect his raw feelings and experiences.
While the show highlighted the new album, it also integrated the new material with the band’s legacy and presented a holistic view of the band and its style. With the intimacy of the venue and the admirable vulnerability of the band itself, the audience became — for this one night — a small community, woven together by the compelling and universal language of high-quality music.