The War on Drugs - London Gig Review

The War on Drugs - London Gig Review

by john / Apr 17, 2022 / 0 comments
Tuesday, 12 April 2022

It seems fair to say that up until pretty recently, Adam Granduciel’s The War on Drugs remained a relatively niche concern; a band that belonged to the proverbial black market, if you will. With a largely underground following up until the latter moments of last year therefore, when the universally lauded and downright wondrous Lost in the Dream came to be as vociferously acclaimed as it eventually became, Granduciel et al. have since crossed over into an altogether more mainstream consciousness, the quagmiry colours of its sleeve plastering the subterraneous underpasses and cramped passageways of many a London Underground station. Said posters, something of an omnipresent to the present day, tell of the end-of-year accolades the record quite rightly accrued, perhaps most notably cinching the top spot in BBC 6 Music’s rundown, as well as similarly estimable second placings in those of the Guardian and Rough Trade. No mean feat then, not least for a band with such understated beginnings; beginnings with which Granduciel remains vocally au fait today…

Beginning this, the second of two sold out shows at the Brobdingnagian O2 Academy Brixton in the space of a week, with shout-outs to the nearby Windmill, as well as The Old Blue Last some five miles across town, the music comprising Lost in the Dream may be – as Granduciel, né Granofsky’s nom de plume may suggest – expansive as the sky itself on occasion. Nonetheless lyrically, it’s all the more introspective, personal and indeed profound, when not problematic, what with the record putatively representing a byproduct of Granduciel’s depressive state, sensations of isolation, and so on. And I can’t help but feel that it’s for this very reason that the album has resonated quite so far and wide: we live in an age of seemingly necessary “struggle”, strife and “suffering,” yes; but it’s one of unnecessary silence also. So to hear Granduciel sing, and do so so openly, about “let[ting] the darkness in” (In Reverse) and feeling like “a stranger” (Eyes to the Wind) within his own skin comes as what I can only see to be catharsis to the author, and relief (if not mental release, and indeed escape) for his audience. Suddenly, indolent comparisons with the likes of Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen and so on ad nauseam seem all the more facile: “We’re just livin’ in the moment/ Makin’ our past, losin’ our grasp” it goes without saying, although that Lost in the Dream became something that so many felt able to cling to “through the grand parade” perhaps shouldn’t be so lazily critiqued. Nor should it come as so great a surprise, either: here was someone willing to engrave their personal traumas onto their sleeve as some might a foolhardily applied tattoo, and Lost in the Dream naturally assumes much added gravitas for this (admittedly, among many another) motive.

With songs both old and new featuring the baritone saxophonic blurts of the notoriously polymathic Jon Natchez, The War on Drugs have come some way since enamouring the altogether more modest confines of both the Brixton Windmill and The Old Blue Last. Indeed, such instruments would have been seemingly impossible to fit in – whether that be spatially, or indeed stylistically – back then, although they’ve now been incorporated to dramatic impact. A seamless inclusion, this is to assert that never do these seem in some way tokenistic. However, rather predictably, it’s those suitably oneiric sounds of Lost in the Dream which resonate both loudest and clearest tonight: under dense blue hues, An Ocean in Between the Waves is hazy yet lucid, if not pellucid, Granduciel’s skyscraping guitar solo akin to that of a TFL-pre-approved busker with nothing but a scrupulously composed backing track for company. And make no mistake: more often than not, this is very much ‘the Adam Granduciel show’, or so it would seem…

The ensuing Disappearing, meanwhile, hears some more synthetic textures surging to the fore as Krauty, technicoloured undertones run polychromic riot. In fact, thanks to the borderline Balearic rhythms so competently supplied by Charlie Hall, combined with the odd house inflexion or phrasing, it’s nigh on impossible not to hear this particular track in a completely different light tonight. Sure, it’s that which has been most radically overhauled, recalling Dire Straits as much as it does Duran Duran at times, although were Granduciel to veer off into this sort of territory henceforth, on such compelling evidence, few could begrudge him such indulgence. For if something of a lull on record, the song is wholly loveable this evening.

Among those more candid numbers is of course the staggeringly bittersweet Eyes to the Wind: squint, and you may just see fleeting glimpses of Jimmy Page fondling a Fender Jazzmaster, although this is all substance over style and this evening, this “open and honest” chef-d’œuvre is, openly and honestly, absolutely breathtaking. Drenched in bold, honeyed goldenness, it would only be mildly hyperbolic to make misplaced quips about how Granduciel comes to resemble El Dorado here, while also worth its weight in that most precious of metals is Red Eyes: again, there is a Krauty thrust underpinning the single throughout, although it’s the Brothers In Arms-ish ecstasy taken from its choral leitmotif – one once more offset by perfectly fitful bursts of saxophone – that ensures it lives on long in the mind. Then both hypnotic and hypnagogic, and initially even hallucinogenic, In Reverse eventually jolts itself awake with a languid flourish, grand flurries of phased guitar meeting with the magnetic, kinetic rhythmic work of Hall, and finding a common feeling of peace, love, understanding and the like as they do so. And there is then Lost in the Dream itself and, with his audience lost therein, the silences between Granduciel’s strums form as memorable a series of moments as his typically lissom vocal delivery. Altogether Heavenly, and played on an angelic Gretsch White Falcon, there is both a celestial lightness to it and a tacit might; the nagging inkling that Granduciel et al. might just be with us for quite some while still to come…

Rating out of 11: