Thursday, June 03, 2021

The Kindness of Strangers: Drug Store Romeos Live in Manchester Review

There was an echo of serene pastures of good times passed near Princess Street, on the night of the 27th of May. 

Despite the occasional conspicuous cough and then the even more conspicuous shooting glances as we searched for the perpetrator, that night heralded the return of the never duplicated feeling of excitement and anticipation that one feels, in the lead up to a gig.


The facemasks worn in the queue were now not just unwanted souvenirs, but passports. A passport, in this case, into the Pink Room at YES, Manchester. Fasten your seatbelt, extinguish all reefers and sanitise your hands, for here is Drug Store Romeos, for all you key worker Juliet’s.


The venue was stylish, yet restrained. The vibe hinted at 80s ‘sophisti-pop’ sensibility, the lines of chairs resembled a charity gig at a community hall and the crowd’s demographic assured me that drunken renditions of ‘Wonderwall’ were far away, on a different night out. Drug Store Romeos, on their first tour in build-up for their debut album ‘The World Within Our Bedrooms’, were faultless and elegant.


The band takes their name from the play ‘A Street Car Named Desire’ but it’s the title of their upcoming LP that really resonates now. It perfectly captures the invention of isolation we have been forced to succumb to. The world I was in, for the hour-long set was far removed from the world of the past year – not so unfamiliar to be new, but too alien to be old.


The considered, whispered vocals of lead singer Sarah, take you by the hand as you are guided through a melee of silent chaos to a forest of quiet connection. Though social distancing remains, Drug Store Romeos for sixty minutes, bought an invigorating air of unity. A unity that had hidden behind meaningless slogans and cowered behind recycled sound bites, a unity that is pure and real.


The whispered vocals were sometimes lost in the mix, but this did not always seem off kilt as the three-piece blended together like a cold bath on a summers’ day. When the lyrics were more present, they were both subtly relatable and unashamedly idiosyncratic. An ‘Insta Poet’s’ nightmare, they went past faux provocative observation and stopped nearer the genuine chimes of mutual experience. Resonating without discrimination.


The opening lines from ‘What’s on Your Mind?’ are both simple & provocative; ‘What’s on your mind?/I’ll tell you what’s on mine/The fact that we haven’t/Been seeing eye to eye’ could be as simple as a frank discussion between lovers forced to live together due to lockdown. Or a statement on the honest discussion we keep threatening to have about our collective & individual mental health as a society, before realising we don’t want the confrontation. Maybe in the most confusing of era’s certainly in my lifetime that we find ourselves in now, simplicity really needs to reign supreme.


Childhood friends, Jonny and Charlie, on drums & bass respectively, did personify the bond that we must hold dear in these uncertain days ahead, with their tight, polished, and ever so effortless shifts, flicks, and tricks. The band describes themselves as ‘dream pop trip hop’ with echoes of Portishead and Mile High ClubBut the 70s-esque synths and ambient, sparse soundscapes evoke the electronic-driven atmosphere of Cold War Berlin.


A Cold War thriller could end with a quiet, lonely walk across the Glienicke Bridge, to the eerie uncertainty of ‘Now You’re Moving’, the band’s debut release. The trepidation of a double agent, as they return from East to West, into a new world, is not too dissimilar to where we are now. The life we’d enjoyed before now seems like fiction.


Without wishing to retrace the steps of the past year too much, it has gotten to a point where Fritz Lang’s Metropolis seems like the view of the near future, not just a poster on a film student’s wall. The new normal, as it is continuously called, though never defined, now sounds less like a compromise and more like a zero-hours contract. It’s there until it isn’t. The present on the other hand is so old; it’s in a state of seemingly constant revival. Serenity has at times left the stage saying ‘hasta la vista baby, I’ll see you on the other side of the plague’.


However, to paraphrase another of the band’s releases, our ‘frame of reference has changed’ as the occupants of this planet. In a world that needs writing, Drug Store Romeos raise a glass to the past, but drink to the future. It’s an endearing sight to see, and it comes at what could be the most exciting & turbulent time for artistic creation since the Teenage Revolution, as we trade our Blue Suede Shoes for Triple Layered PPE.


Drug Store Romeos release their debut album ‘The World Within Our Bedrooms’ on the 25th of June.


Tom Pritchard

Instagram @themaninthehallofghosts


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