Surf-Rock Riot with Beach Fossils at Music Hall of Williamsburg


This past Friday night was one of the more memorable shows I’ve been to at Music Hall of Williamsburg. I’ve been to a decent amount of shows here, and I can’t say I’ve ever had a bad time, but I’ve never been as surprised by what I didn’t expect at all from a lineup of seemingly mellow, breezy, beach bands. Sure, I expected dancing, but what eventually happened went way beyond that.

The band that served as the introduction to the night was Crinkles. This is a relatively new band from what I can tell, but they’ve already formed their own record label, HEAVYPET, and released a handful of EPs, including Italian Ice, released in December 2010. They had the right vibe to open the show, and effectively eased the crowd that was forming into a night of jangly, dancey guitars and synths.


Craft Spells was next, a band simply described as “4 lads playin’ tunez.” They’re from Seattle, WA, but have that same jangly sound that tries to conjure a summer feeling with fuzzy vocals. The bassist stood out as being the grooviest of the four, adding the key ingredient to make people move. Not that the crowd needed much prompting. Everyone was there to dance, and dancing they were. Craft Spells’ 50s drum beat was like a mod sock hop, and the lead singer/guitarist’ vocals was full of catchy “ooohs.” They all danced around on stage during their songs, but the last tune, “You Should Close the Door,” was definitely the danciest. The crowd agreed. Complete with bird caws, this was the most high-energy number of the night so far. Immediately after finishing, the drummer sprightly jumped down from his set and snapped a photo of the audience, so they must have been having a good time too.


This show had been billed as including a special guest, and now it was time to find out who it was. There had already been rumors floating around that The Drums would be on this lineup, and as the “special guest” was setting up, I heard the people around me saying, “Is that the new drummer?” and a couple guys next to me were singing snippets of their songs, so it really wasn’t much of a secret after all. The bass drum had The Drums’ “D” on it, with a cursory “UH” added to spell “DUH,” implying that they really weren’t trying to fool anyone anyway. The set lists were taped to the floor, and a couple recognizable members started sound checking, although there were some noticeable differences to the lineup. Guitarist Jacob Graham was now on synth, and drummer Connor Hanwick was now on guitar. They did indeed have a new drummer, and another guitarist, but the sound was definitely still the classic sound they’ve been going for all along.

People around me were clearly huge fans. As soon as the set lists were taped down, I could hear excited murmurs that “I Felt So Stupid” would be played live for the first time that they knew of, most likely because of the added synth, and also exclamations of not being able to wait for Monday night, when The Drums will play at Knitting Factory with Matthew Dear (which is now sold out). When The Drums started playing, it felt as though they were actually the headliners, and everyone was there to see them. Singer Jonathan Pierce is an impeccable front man, possessing all the moves he needs and really knowing how to work the crowd. He has this apathetic attitude, yet infinite energy to dance the whole time with his signature jerky, almost awkward movements. But we all know that he knows exactly what he’s doing. “This song’s for our dead best friend,” he said before performing “Best Friend.”


When they went into “I Felt So Stupid,” they solicited the biggest crowd reaction up to that point. Then they went right into “Book of Stories,” followed by a new song. “I don’t have any money,” Pierce crooned repeatedly while pulling out an empty pocket. I don’t know what this song is called, but it sounds like they just wrote the universal lament of NYC youth. Pierce reacted quickly when he overheard a girl in the crowd say that she needed water, and handed her a bottle from the stage before going right into “I Need Fun in my Life.” This was the song that first got me into The Drums, because of its simplicity and truth. You would have to be a major curmudgeon to not relate to lyrics like “I need fun in my life, and I need life in my fun.” The last song was “The Future,” which was a great closer; although I was a little surprised they didn’t play “Let’s Go Surfing.” When they left the stage, it felt like the zenith of the show was over, but it turned out that I really had no idea what was coming next.


I wrote a show preview back in January about escaping from the cold with Beach Fossils’ sandy beach sounds, and Kelly Montgomery reviewed their self-titled album last year, stating that it sounded “like a lazy, slow-motion day in the California sun.” This is what I was expecting from their live show, however, this was not a “laid back surf-rock” show by any means.

Beach Fossils’ first couple songs were mundane enough, but singer/guitarist Dustin Payseur wanted to incite a riot. “In case you’ve never been to a Beach Fossils show before,” he advised the crowd, “there’s usually a mosh pit going on right here,” he said, gesturing in a circular motion to the middle of the floor. All the kids needed was permission. I have to admit that from this point on the rest of the show is largely a crazy, chaotic blur for me. The entire floor erupted into a hardcore mosh pit, with drinks and sweat flying every which way. I stood my ground at the front of the stage long enough for my camera battery to die, and then I had to get out of the way of the fanatic teenagers jumping over me to get on stage and dance with the band. Since when did Beach Fossils turn into hardcore surf rock? I was so blown away I couldn’t believe the sheer craziness that was happening before me. I hope someone was able to shield their camera from the spilled beer well enough to get some fantastic video of the show, because this night really should have been documented.

Security escorted at least a dozen people off the stage after letting them dance for a moment on stage. Some kids just took a stage dive back into the crown instead. The band was going crazy on stage too, all of them dancing and twirling around, eating up the energy in the room that could have powered the whole city that night. They played the hits that people wanted to hear, although I don’t remember much about the order or anything happening in between songs. I’m still reeling a little from my shock, and in my mind it was just non-stop dancing and shoving and dancing and jumping and dancing. I do remember the last song was “Youth,” which was absolutely appropriate. That song not only summed up the general feeling Beach Fossils’ music has, but summed up the whole night. Just about everyone at that show, whether they were teenagers or not, reverted back to having absolutely no shame and going completely wild. I’m not saying this is a bad thing by any means, because it certainly made for a more than memorable show, and that is what the live experience is all about.


mosh pit vision

This was the tour kick-off show for Beach Fossils, and they have at least 20 dates booked across the U.S. with Craft Spells as support. You can pick up Beach Fossils’ self-titled album (which, by the way, was given a 7.8 on Pitchfork) at InSound Vinyl, and use it as a reference point before seeing them live, so you can see for yourself the insane difference between the two.

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