Delayed Music Review: Surfer Blood and Drums at Webster Hall

Is it just me or does this band make you feel old?

My friend leans in from behind me as Surfer Blood jams on stage in the most visually awkward combination of personalities and outfits I’ve seen in a long time.  It was true: they all seemed to be under the legal drinking age.  And we old hags of yore stood there, crawling near the cusp of thirty, watching with booze in hand.  It’s only going to get worse, I think to myself as I take another sip of cheap red wine.

Surfer Blood is one of those pseudo-Beach Boys, happy pants bands that you can imagine a modern day Annette Funicello shaking her groove thing to on some beach in Santa Monica.  Before arriving this evening, I had never seen a photograph or a video, but I assumed they would accurately represent their sound in an aesthetic fashion – as bands are want to do.  This band does not cooperate with such expectations.

I stare at the stage, wondering why their performance is bothering me so much.  There is something about the lead singer that smacks of a nerdy, button-up version of Brandon Flowers from The Killers (the Kanye West of pop/ rock music, in my opinion) – the dramatic swagger, the palpable confidence.  With Flowers, however annoying it might have been, the act seemed to fit The Act, if you know what I mean.  Watching Surfer Blood’s lead singer waltz with himself and a guitar on stage in a button-up and jeans, quieting his movements during slower bits and aching for the chorus line, just doesn’t pair up well with their sound.  I guess I was just expecting an introverted nerd.  But that’s my problem, I suppose.

The set is good enough, though not memorable.  The highlights being the same highlights of the album, the performance not able to bring to life any of the maybe sleeper hits.  My friend sums it up nicely when, after finishing up a dance-in-place dance-off to “Take It Easy,” he says, “That’s the jam, man.  That’s like going to see The Big Pink and not dancing to ‘Dominos.’”  Surfer Blood is kind of like that sort-of-solid one-hit band that makes you boogie for a week or two during summer until you find something better.  It’s not necessarily deep enough to solicit any further attachment.

Headlining this evening’s show is the band Drums, a charming group of skinny nothings I first fell in love with for their video “Let’s Go Surfing.”  Also part of bon-fire-on-the-beach music movement, the leader singer makes it clear that all they are making is pop music, shouting often, “This is just pop music!” as if to garner some sort of sympathy from the crowd or make himself feel better for creating more needless fluff for the universe.

Visually, the band confuses me less.  They are all smartly dressed and gel nicely in my brain’s understanding of style.  The lead singer sports a maroon satin jacket that catches the light as he bounds around the stage like Gumby, moving boneless limbs and painting rainbows with his hips.

The singer’s arrogance is more clearly articulated in this live performance.  True, the album does showcase the lyrical inklings of a winy brat, but in the flesh I am struck by how much he resembles a spoiled kid on Christmas morning, complaining that he wanted forty video games that year, not thirty-nine.  He reminds me of a more articulate, clean, and refined version of Johnny Rotten, saying things to the crowd like, “This is about a girl I hate very much,” before launching into a tune, or versions of his favorite self-deprecating/ arrogant comment about pop music with things like, “This is pop music.  Nothing more, nothing less.”  After hearing this a few times while watching him sache across the stage with a Been There, Done That type of boredom, I begin to think that maybe the joke is on his fans, and he is merely serving a product he has no real faith or stock in.

That’s not to say it was a bad show.  In fact, it was quite enjoyable…you know, for pop music.