The Drums rocked San Francisco’s August Hall on July 26 with a set spanning all five of their upbeat, personal albums. The indie pop stalwarts nearly filled the venue to the brim with their earlier, easygoing surf-rock vibes and with deeper cuts from their more recent albums.
The tour is in support of the band’s fifth album Brutalism, its second album released solely by frontman Jonny Pierce following the rest of the band’s departure. Brutalism draws from Pierce’s experiences with mental health and failed relationships. The Japanese all-girl punk-rock band CHAI warmed up the crowd with its chant-along feminist anthems. After the opener, Pierce took to the stage with his backing band in front of a large backdrop of a Technicolor head, moving through songs with few bells and whistles, the band’s newest album featuring prominently in its set.
The packed house was relatively diverse in terms of age and responded to the Drums’ older songs with vigor and familiarity throughout the set. Intermittent dance moves rocked the audience as Pierce, dressed in an all-corduroy outfit and rocking a short bowl cut, spread his earnest, mostly stagnant energy.
The Drums opened with “Days,” off their popular sophomore album Portamento. Early into the set, Pierce took the time to honor what San Francisco has done for him, personally and creatively, referring to it as a “refuge.” Many longtime fans in the audience cheered. Pierce continued for a few minutes on the inclusivity and community that he felt in the city, speaking to his experiences as a queer songwriter and artist. With that, the sold-out crowd surged in approval at his many thanks and appreciations. “(This crowd) definitely isn’t Iowa on a Wednesday,” he joked.
Pierce segued between songs quickly, singing Brutalism‘s “Body Chemistry” with an easy familiarity as he languidly wrapped his arms around his chest in what seemed like emotive, impromptu choreography. He seldom moved around the stage during the set, preferring to simply stand at dead center and lean different ways through songs, crooning into his microphone stand. Similarly, the backing band drew little attention to itself, allowing the literal spotlight to stay on Pierce throughout.
The songs mostly blurred into each other, both visually and tonally — most of the songs the band played held the same upbeat, surfer tone — as the set dragged on. On “I Can’t Believe,” off 2014’s Encyclopedia, Pierce held his arms up to his chest, clutching himself in a gentle display as he moved them to his neck and back to his heart.
Though many of the Drums’ lyrics deal with darker issues masked by musical optimism, much of the crowd seemed deeply connected with Pierce’s expressions. The frequent appearance of a mosh pit even during the slower songs helped break some of the monotony of the set, especially when it became clear that many in the crowd weren’t familiar with the band’s newer, less popular releases.
The Drums tapered off their set with two of their classics: their debut song “Let’s Go Surfing” and their well-known track “Money.” “I want to buy you something, but I don’t have any money,” Pierce sang along with the crowd. When they left the stage before the encore, a chant rippled halfheartedly through the audience.
The Drums came back to truly close their set with not one but three more songs, including the dreamy, tongue-in-cheek “Rich Kids” off Abysmal Thoughts. The two songs about monetary difficulties seemed to resonate with the audience the most, and the Drums ended their set with “Blood Under My Belt,” ending a night of exciting, if repetitive, indie rock.