Artist: The War on Drugs
Venue: The Shrine Auditorium
Date: February 26, 2022
For my first live show of 2022, I was treated to the stratospheric virtuosity of rock band The War on Drugs. Known for frontman Adam Granduciel’s incredible guitar playing and room-filling sound, the group truly lived up to their reputation as one of the best live acts touring today.
Having dropped all of their tour openers due to covid precautions, the group came on stage close to 9:00pm, opening with the beatific “Old Skin”. That song’s soothing ambience and piano melody felt like the awakening spring after a long, harsh winter. Like so many of the band’s tracks, “Old Skin” carefully, skillfully builds into epic grandiosity. It’s something the group does so well, and makes their live show akin to a religious experience (I found myself wanting to throw my hands up in the air on numerous occasions).
What also really comes through in the band’s live show is their indebtedness to the 80’s. While Granduciel sings like Bob Dylan and plays guitar like Neil Young, the rest of the band mixes the stadium aspirations of the E Street Band with the synths, keyboards and drums of new wave and 80’s pop. Stripping away the guitars, it wouldn’t be shocking to hear the band’s music in a New York club or Euro disco. It’s one of the reasons The War on Drugs truly stands out; they’ve figured out how to transform what could be simple folk rock into a full, wall-of-sound stadium experience.
Much should also be said of Granduciel’s swelling guitar solos. Like Young and other disciples like J Mascis, Granduciel’s let’s single notes sing out in long, flowing strands of melody that can be purely cathartic. It shines on songs like the group’s biggest hit, “Red Eyes”, which drew cheers from the audience, or newer songs like “Harmonia’s Dream”. And while the band showed they could easily blast our more straight-forward rockers like “Come to the City”, they flourished on the looser soundscapes of “Ocean of Darkness” or the near-perfect recent single “I Don’t Live Here Anymore”. And the band gifted the audience with an appearance by the incredible vocal duo Lucius on that song, singing the harmonies they sang on the album.
With the main show being so fantastic, I’ll admit that the encore went on a little longer than necessary for me. I was certainly happy to hear the gorgeous “Thinking of a Place”, and the group’s tackling of the Dylan b-side “Born in Time” showed again how key the legendary songwriter is to War on Drug‘s DNA. Ending on the thoughtful love song “Occasional Rain” felt appropriate, as that song closes out the band’s excellent album I Don’t Live Here Anymore, and rings with a hopefulness we could all use right now in this dark world.
Until you’re able to see the band in person, get lost in their music by listening to some of their best songs here.