Adam Granduciel & co a.k.a The War on Drugs bring their bold, sprawling psych-Americana sound to London’s grand Alexandra Palace.
After the immense rapture received for their third album, Lost in the Dream, which placed them at the grown-up forefront of modern indie rock, The War on Drugs return to the UK this time round on the tour circuit for September’s follow-up, A Deeper Understanding. Though the focus has shifted towards the band belonging to the creative project of lead singer-songwriter Adam Granduciel, the live show heartfully demonstrates the band’s solid and formidable dynamic.
Without wasting a breath, the band jump into the first few songs of the new album and keep the swirling majesty of the guitar and the Springsteen-like octane pumping throughout the show, as marked by a tenacious, Bonzo Dog delight on the face of drummer Charlie Hall. The new material is noticeably brighter and more well-polished than the ethereal Americana formula that took the band into the mainstream, but there remains a rich tapestry of dizzying soundscapes and a delicate, nostalgic quality that defines the band’s subtle and mature atmosphere.
Though the show fails to be as immersive as the sound of the studio, and the songs less distinct from each other, there is still plenty to marvel at here, beyond simply Granduciel’s hobo-dad aesthetic: a masterfully extended rendition of “Thinking of a Place” that appears on the latest album is nothing but spellbinding, and the stirring energy of the band’s biggest hit ‘Red Eyes’ delivers that explosive, Fleetwood Mac guitar solo with glee. Towards the end of the show, the curtain falls gracefully and, flanked by its brazen psychedelic lightshow, the band’s tranquil melancholy seems to invite you directly to a time gone by.
Though, perhaps the toughest obstacle for The War on Drugs is that, beneath Granduciel’s not-so-much Dylanesque as full blown Bobby vocals there is some extraordinary talent, they can’t quite shake their aura of classic rock nostalgia. But this makes it easy to neglect the powerful imagery and profundity in Granduciel’s lyrics, carried like an eagle by the shimmering majesty of the music. Closing the set with the return to the favourites from Lost in the Dream, “Red Eyes”, “Under the Pressure” and “Burning”, though one can linger for the spacier and more intimate ambience that has made the band’s latest albums so admirable, the crowd are in no way at a loss. In opting for a taut, consistent set that builds to a heady and incendiary climax, The War on Drugs remind you that though it’s hard for them to escape the fated, paltry clique that is modern Indie Rock, their charm and formidable talent has proven harder to ignore.