When I first saw Drug Store Romeos – supporting The Orielles at The Ritz in the delusional days of early March 2020 – it was business as usual: find a spot that will inevitably become the gulf stream to the bar for the entire audience; take off at least three layers and drape them over my arm; rest my pint on top of jumper mountain and then clamp it between my teeth whenever I need to clap.
Fifteen months have passed since then, and while the term ‘socially distanced gig’ might cause eyerolls from gig-goers desperate to have a stranger’s armpit in their face, I was quite happy to have a bit of space and somewhere to sit.
The Pink Room of YES was laid out in rows of those comfy sponge chairs you find in teachers’ staff rooms and community centres, and pints were ordered on a click and collect basis, probably the main quirk of pandemic-land that will be carried over into the new world.
Being at a gig again makes you realise what an imposition on your time they can sometimes be. If the set’s too long or the songs too self-indulgent, it’s a special kind of hell. Done right, it’s a holiday for the mind. Drug Store Romeos opted for the latter, and took us on a lovely trip.
When three-piece Sarah Downie (vox/keys/guitar), Charlie Henderson (bass) and Jonny Gilbert (drums) stepped on stage and took up their instruments, it felt strange to think that they were going to perform live for us, making sounds for our enjoyment. They took that sense of the slightly unreal and, for an hour, gave it a soundtrack.
They opened with a triplet of arresting psychedelia – Building Song, What’s on Your Mind and Secret Plan – all from their upcoming album, The World Within Our Bedrooms. Each of these tracks in their own way show off an element of the sound DSR have arrived at after the necessary few years of soul-searching EPs and singles. Now, they make great use of understatement; the bass and drums laying a taut, moreish foundation for Downie’s dreamy vocals and alluring keyboard lines. Most importantly, the songs aren’t ‘dreamscapes’ or ‘sonic murals’- those compositions that suggest they’ll lead you somewhere interesting only to dissipate and, ultimately, disappoint. This is well-written psychedelic pop that wants you to remember its name.
The joys of a three-piece is that you can do simple things to climbing degrees of complexity, and that’s something Drug Store Romeos achieve here with an unflustered ease considering their relatively young age. Many of their newer songs undergo a satisfying lurch into a different tempo at some point, and what could be a needless search to keep things interesting only lifts the song further. The influences they clearly have been guzzling – Stereolab, Broadcast, Mazzy Star – aren’t overbearing, and are instead just a faint, encouraging presence somewhere nearby.
Drug Store Romeos gigs have effectively bookended the last fifteen months for me, and in doing so have reminded me that not only is the world not ending, there are others to explore.
Also, who doesn’t love a sit down?
Main photo credit: mojojo.jojojo