Surfer Blood and the Drums at the Varsity Theater, 10/13/10

Photos by Erik Hess
Surfer Blood and the Drums
October 13, 2010
Varsity Theater

What better way to shake off my post-GBV hangover than to see two young, talented bands at one of the most stylish venues in town, as the Floridian quintet Surfer Blood and the Brooklyn quartet the Drums both delivered short, spirited sets to a receptive audience at the Varsity Theater on Wednesday night. And while this was already Surfer Blood's fourth local show, the Drums were making their Minneapolis debut, and played like they wanted to make a lasting impression on fans and newcomers alike, delivering a gripping, engaging set that even eclipsed the headliners.

The Drums had the stage so dark and shrouded in smoke at the start of their set, that, ironically, I had a hard time telling if there was even a drummer playing with the other three members until the middle of the second song. The set started with the elegant "It Will All End In Tears," with the band bathed in warm lights and a haze that only added to the rich atmosphere of their music. And while frontman Jonathan Pierce certainly has taken some of his stage moves and moody vocals directly from Ian Curtis, he proved to be quite magnetic and winsome, delivering his melancholy lyrics with a panache and intensity that gave their songs a true heart.

Photos by Erik Hess

"Best Friend" was an unexpectedly upbeat, propulsive number, especially when you consider that Pierce introduced it by saying "This song is all about my dead best friend." But that dry, dark humor and boundless passion is at the center of most of the Drums material, as "Let's Go Surfing" and "Book Of Stories" clearly attest to. Their all-too-brief, 35-minute set drew to an end with a stirring rendition of "Forever And Ever Amen" that was a perfectly engrossing way to end the performance, but clearly left us all wanting more. "This here is pop music," Pierce claimed during the set, and on this night that was all that any of us needed and more.

Surfer Blood did away with all of the mood lighting and fog, delivering a straightforward set of catchy rock songs that are ultimately impossible to resist. Their set started with a gem, "Fast Jabroni," that quickly won over anyone in the crowd that were still resistant to the band's charms. "Take It Easy" quickly built on that energy, and featured a long, extended coda that really found the band expanding their dynamic sound. After a lively rendition of "Twin Peaks," the band treated us to the first of two new songs they would debut on this evening, "I'm Not Ready," a striking little number which fit in rather seamlessly with the band's other exuberant material. 

Photos by Erik Hess

Keeping the banter to a relative minimum, the band charged confidently through their well-paced, 45-minute set, delivering stellar versions of "Harmonix" and "Floating Vibes" that were proof positive why this band has garnered as much buzz as they have during their short time together. Another new song followed, and it's so new in fact that it was titled "New Song" on the setlist. It was a bit slower paced than the other new track, and when combined with the lumbering "Catholic Pagans," the show hit a bit of a lull.

But that was quickly forgotten and forgiven as the group tore through a monstrous version of "Swim" that was an absolute knockout. The song is as captivating as it is catchy, and really is one of the best singles released in the last few years. And it simply slays live. After such a stunning song, there was bound to be a bit of a drop-off, and at first "Anchorage" dragged a bit, before the band started pulling fans on stage to dance with them during the song's riotous conclusion. I was dismayed to see that a cover of Pavement's "Box Elder" was on the setlist, but sadly it went unplayed as the band eschewed an encore.  But the stage invasion proved to be a fitting end to a great night of music by a couple of young upstarts that we should clearly be hearing more from in the future.

Photos by Erik Hess

Critic's Bias: Astro Coast is one of the best records of the year, and the Drums self-titled debut is quickly becoming a favorite as well.

The Crowd: Surprisingly it thinned out a bit after the Drums, perhaps due to it being a rather late show on a Wednesday.

Overheard In The Crowd: "I think these lights might give me a seizure."

Random Notebook Dump: I'm still pissed that Surfer Blood didn't play "Box Elder." Next time, boys.

Surfer Blood Setlist:

Fast Jabroni

Take It Easy

Twin Peaks

I'm Not Ready


Floating Vibes

New Song

Catholic Pagans



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