By Cass Hyde
Photography: Shawn Brackbill
The War On Drugs are moving up in the world.
Following the release of their breakout 2014 album, Lost In The Dream, The War On Drugs have quickly become synonymous with luscious, semi-melancholic heartland rock. The album is a Springsteen-infused epic, putting themes of depression and paranoia over deep reverberated guitar sounds, making it one of the best albums of the decade so far.
Their latest album, A Deeper Understanding, builds upon this success, producing vast dreamscapes that are both profound and often dancey. Significantly, the album charts at #3 in the UK and #10 in the US, opening up the possibility of playing (and selling out) multiple nights at somewhere like the Apollo.
The War On Drugs are paradoxical. Their music has so many musical touchstones; Springsteen, Tom Petty, Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Spaceman 3, to name a few. Yet, no one does what they do as well as they do. Sometimes, lazy music journalists write pieces about how rock n roll needs to be saved. The War On Drugs show us that all that “rock isn’t dead” – you just need to do is to write and play it really, really well.
With a minimalist light show behind them, The War On Drugs made it clear from the outset that it was all about the music. With their performance, the band unfurl their wings. Frontman and primary songwriter Adam Granduciel moves from delicate guitar playing to producing crushing solos with ease, all the while providing powerful vocals on top. Yet, this isn’t a one man operation. Joined by five other performers, playing everything from piano organ to tenor saxophone, The War On Drugs sound so crisp and clear that they are simply unmatchable. Hats off to their sound engineers!
A highlight of their performance was ‘Thinking of a Place’, a sprawling, 11 and a half minute odyssey. Played expertly, the song moves from highs to lows, building to a crescendo half way through, at which point a screen quickly descended, projecting psychedelic rainbows visuals. The lights shining on the band and the crowd were ethereal, yet tranquil, complementing the music beautifully.
While The War On Drugs only managed to play 15 songs in two hours, the band’s set made time for understated performances. ‘Baby Missiles’ is a fast-paced, three minute single, complete with harmonica solo. ‘Lost In The Dream’ is a serene ballad, building from just Granduciel’s guitar work to a full band performance. The band ended the night with ‘Eyes To The Wind’, a Dylan-esque number blending together piano and guitar into a seamless whole. All this showed that Granduciel and Co. had way more than just long epics up their sleeve.
The band closed their main set with ‘Under The Pressure’, the opening track from Lost In The Dream. Whilst the song had the crowd jumping non-stop for the last three minutes, the performance was almost like a highlight reel as to why this band is so good. Brilliant, confident songwriting. Touching lyrics. Great vocals. Yet, The War On Drugs make it all seem so effortless.