by Alex Monzel
I arrived forty-five minutes early and yawning. Not off to a good start. They were playing at one of my favorite venues, Schubas Tavern (exact pronunciation still up for debate), and by some miracle I’d managed to find parking in Chicago on a Saturday. Even if it was under a broken streetlight and dangerously close to a fire hydrant, it was still a major accomplishment.
I made my way inside, grabbed a beer from the cute bartender and posted up in the back of a room filled with drunken strangers from Lollapalooza. I pulled out my phone and tried to participate in that millennial pastime of pretending like you’ve got somewhere much more important to be. It wasn’t working.
All this pointless precursor to say: I was not in the right head-space to enjoy anything, let alone a concert. I quickly downed my beer and was about to wander around when a familiar face walked past me. I scratched my head and tried desperately to place him, and I’m mildly ashamed to admit that it didn’t fully hit me until he and his three friends jumped up on stage. I checked my phone: eleven o’clock. Right on time. They managed to pick up their instruments and begin their set with a swift “1,2,3,4” all in under thirty seconds.
When the first notes of “Troublemaker” hit the crowd all those thoughts that plagued me found some other place to be. Now, it’d be easy to write how Drowners enchanted the crowd, each eye focused intently on the same target, or how everyone else was completely disregarding the band, but neither of those are true. They did not take push the crowd to one extreme or the other, rather it was a simple matter of they played, and we listened.
They were an opener. While opening acts are notorious for not getting the attention they deserve (be it from people showing up late or simply not paying attention), Drowners got their just due. I was sad that one other guy and I in the front were the only two people singing along, but I was overjoyed when I overheard a conversation after their set about how this guy was going to buy their discography when he got home.
And that was the way their show went: for every pro there was a con, for every success a failure. Not really a failure, more of like a not-so-success. I seem to have misplaced my thesaurus, so we’re just going to leave it at that.
For instance, they were only given forty minutes to impress the crowd, but they absolutely made the most of their time. That thirty seconds at the beginning of the show was probably the longest portion of time they spent not playing music. The transition between tracks was seamless. “Troublemaker” into “Cruel Ways” was a work of art in its own respect.
My opinion on this matter may be different from yours, but I actually enjoy when a band takes a breath in between songs to acknowledge the audience. I almost would have preferred they play one less song and spent that time engaging with the crowd. It’s along the same lines as why I don’t go to more EDM shows. They just feel so mechanical. I believe there should be something more you get from a concert than just a band throwing their greatest hits album on shuffle.
Again, if you feel differently about it, that’s fine. My dad constantly yells at the radio DJ’s to just shut up and play the next song, so I get that my opinion isn’t universal. That being said, it’s clear that Drowners knows how to be an opening act. They were given a very set amount of time, so they arrived on time and made the most of what they had with flawless timing.
To their credit, they made up the lack of audience engagement after the show when they traversed back through the crowd (as their was no backstage) and took pictures/ greeted any fan who asked nicely. The lack of backstage is actually one of my favorite parts of Schubas because it creates this sort of environment of detached intimacy. No matter where you are, you can feel like you’re in the front row, but if you want to relax away from the madness, there’s always the bar behind you.
Back to the band, Drowners had this air about them that said “we honestly don’t give a shit.” When they brushed past me in the crowd, they each carried at least two drinks with them up to the stage. For the little bit that they spoke, it was incredibly difficult to tell if they were already drunk or if they were just really Welsh.
They didn’t seem to care about how much time they had, what songs they played when, or to how many people. I got the impression that they’d be performing the exact same way at Lollapalooza the next day despite the drastic change in venue. They just played their music and had a hell of a time doing it.
While not giving a shit is certainly seen as quite an admirable quality these days (for whatever reason), it is not always the best approach. If you don’t care, things will not always turn out exactly right. While Drowners played their music well, their sound did not totally fill the space they were provided. Utilizing a space effectively requires more than just getting the volume levels right on the mixing board, rather it’s a collaborative effort from all partied involved. Live mixing is an art in how precise it can be, and I would honestly not be making this criticism if I had not stayed for the headliner, Nothing But Thieves.
They were electric. Their presence was not just seen or heard, it was felt. It’s one of those rare bands nowadays where their studio recordings do not do their talent justice. These two were an incredible pairing, and I feel bad for everyone who wasn’t there to see it since they’re not touring together.
All in all, it was a good show. I had fun and got to listen to good music; what more can you really want out of life? I had injured my foot prior to the show, but even that could not stop me from dancing. I, of course, am cursing my past self for being such a moron, but let’s be honest, present me would do the exact same thing.
Drowners is on tour throughout the month of October, but only in Europe (sorry America). However, they are playing two shows in New York on August 11th and October 6th. I believe they are headlining, but don’t quote me on that. I’d highly recommend you catch one of their remaining shows, especially if they have the added freedom of being the headliner.