There is a unique sensation that hits you when you realize you’re seeing the perfect band in the perfect venue. For all the talk of which venues in D.C. are best for what type of bands, the Black Cat is certifiably the best for bands on the up and up. And while The Drums are by no-means new comers—Abysmal Thoughts is their fourth album—Methyl Ethel has all the feels of a band that’s one album away from instantly outgrowing the musky confines of the Mainstage at Black Cat.
Despite their undeniable talent, Methyl Ethel’s performance began with about as little fanfare as one could imagine. You could tell that about 95% of the people at the show were waiting for The Drums, and that resulted in a very subdued reaction when Ethel quietly walked out onto the stage. I’ve never really given stage presence that much sway, especially in raw venues like Black Cat or U Street Music Hall, but it was mildly disappointing how much the band was affected by the receptive but distracted group of Drums devotees huddled near the stage. Nonetheless, Methyl Ethel pushed through and showered the audience with rhythmic riffs powered by well-placed synth interludes and low-key guitar riffs. The comparisons to neighbors Tame Impala—Methyl Ethel is also from Perth, Australia—are undeniable but the distinction lies in the accessibility of Methyl Ethel’s catalogue. Songs like “Drink Wine,” “Ubu,” and “No. 28” are deceivingly light-hearted in their sonic composition, but underscored by dark, direct lyrics that grab your attention but don’t throw you off balance. Material from their debut album, 2016’s Oh Inhumane Spectacle, only demonstrated the rapid refinement you expect from a band on an upward trajectory.
And if refinement is a marker to go by when judging bands, then The Drums are nearly at the top of their game. The name of the band in itself is a bit of a conundrum; the only remaining original member is frontman Jonny Pierce. I had never heard of The Drums prior to this show, but the moment Pierce waltzed onto the stage with all the confidence of a young Morrissey during his “Irish Rose” years, I knew I was in for a treat. Despite dropping their self-titled debut in 2010, The Drums abide by the stylistic cues of British indie pop of the 1980s. Their entire repertoire, from “Blood Under My Belt” to “Days,” is buried deep in sounds reminiscent of The Wake and The Smiths. Every song was purposefully anemic, driven by gentle layered guitars, and drum patterns perfect for aggressive swaying. Pierce also brought life to the performance through subtle jagged movements that somehow balanced the fine line between sultry and disengaged.
The dichotomy of the two bands could not have been more stark, with Methyl Ethel’s childish wonderment and The Drum’s somber “dance even when you’re sad” attitude. Methyl Ethel exuded the humble aura of a band that doesn’t seem to acknowledge that back home they are bonafide stars with their latest album Everything is Forgotten nominated for Australian Album of the Year at this year’s 13th Annual J Awards. The Drums countered that with a performance that spoke of subdued sorrow and energy. On this night, the contrast spoke volumes, and made for a concert that was one of my favorites in recent months.