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Grooving to driving rhythms of the Drums

The Drums whipped the crowd into a frenzy at the Brighton Music Hall on Thursday. The Drums whipped the crowd into a frenzy at the Brighton Music Hall on Thursday. (Kayana Szymczak for The Boston Globe)
By Matt Parish
Globe Correspondent / October 3, 2011

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For all the up-front emotions and sharp songwriting the Drums have displayed throughout their three-year run, their lo-fi records can still be a little suffocating. The drum machines are cheap, the guitars struggle to stay in tune, and the vocals echo through brittle halls of manufactured reverb.

Live, it’s another story. Thursday night at Brighton Music Hall, the Brooklyn group hit the stage as a full five-piece band with swagger. They were one night into their US tour in support of the newly released “Portamento.’’ The new material is a little more keyboard-heavy, but make no mistake about it: This is a big rock band at heart.

Singer Jonathan Pierce, a wounded vision of ’80s high school movie villains, twirled and careened over the guitars and pounded fists in the air to drummer Chris Stein, whose drastic dynamics added a welcome emotional change from the cold beats on record. The twin guitars of Jacob Graham and Myles Matheny grafted the punchy tones and hooks from ’90s guitar pop like Liz Phair onto new wave mood swings.

Pierce, dressed like he was bumming backstage at the ballet in a black tank-top and loose button-up, had everything in the palms of his hyperactive hands by the second song, last year’s “Best Friend.’’ He channeled Ian Curtis and Elvis Presley and even maybe the sharp conducting moves of Leopold Stokowski. His voice seemed to soar higher and stronger as the night went on, yelping through the new atheist coming-out anthem “Book of Revelation,’’ “Money,’’ and culminating in a “Forever and Ever Amen’’ that whipped the crowd into bona fide stage-diving levels of ecstasy.

But it’s the quieter spots that made the show worthwhile. Pierce’s voice booms, but it does tend to follow the same two or three tricks cribbed from the Strokes and the Smiths. When the Drums descended into boardwalk ballads - the rare “Baby, That’s Not the Point’’ and “Down by the Water’’ - that old intimacy from the recordings was back. After they had cleared the air with the big songs, the little ones finally had room to breathe.

Openers Veronica Falls, a London quartet, sluggishly handled a few different surf beats, sunshine-pop chords, and Pixies bass lines. There were a few incredible melodies buried under piles of strumming, but the group might be advised to lay off the Robitussin, even if they were admittedly battling the flu.

Matt Parish can be reached at

THE DRUMS With Veronica Falls

At: Brighton Music Hall, Thursday