I am not a music critic, just a big fan thrilled to have the chance to see this band live. And it was even better than I had hoped.
The set, including three encores, featured almost all of the band’s 2017 Grammy-winning album ‘A Deeper Understanding’, all five singles from 2014’s ‘Lost in the Dream’, one from 2011’s ‘Slave Ambient’, and an enduring favourite from their 2008 debut, ‘Wagonwheel Blues’.
This feels like the kind of music made to be heard live, both because of The War on Drugs’ all-consuming, awe-inspiring tapestries of sound, but also because of what their songs are about: love, loss, and the unrelenting dread of an anxious mind. Adam Granduciel and co. have a transcendent talent for making music that feels like a punch to the gut and a hug at the same time – and, in a live arena, with the thrill of being part of a sold-out crowd full of friends and fellow fans, hearing these songs was inspiring and life-affirming.
Seeing a spot-lit Adam Granduciel pick up the harmonica and knowing what was coming – a true work of art, “Eyes to the Wind” – gave me chills.
“Like a train in reverse down a dark road, carrying a whole load, just rattling the whole way home.”
One of the most impressive sights to behold was how fluidly the band seemed to breeze through such dynamic, layered songs. This is not to say they lacked effort – far from it. Several times, drummer Charlie Hall ended a song by standing up, fully extending, hovering in the air a moment, then dropping down and thrashing the kit with full force. Bassist Dave Hartley shimmied and swayed as he strummed away. Adam Granduciel’s vocals were powerful all evening. And over the raucous applause that followed each song – the explosive barn-burners and the quieter ballads alike – always an unassuming “Thank-ye!”
The lighting design was dazzling. Each song had a vivid colour palette of its own – visual atmosphere complementing the sonic. For “Thinking of a Place”, a cyclorama came down behind the band, catching their shadows amidst a wash of pink, blue, and green. In the haunting first few minutes of “Under the Pressure”, it looked as if the band were behind a water wall. Fan favourite “Red Eyes” featured some of the most impressive lighting: along a semi-circle of lights on the back wall, flashes of effervescent red pulsed along to the tune of Jon Natchez on the sax – and then the song hit its blazing highs, triggering explosions of intersecting beams of white. An audience member close to the stage leaped at least a metre in the air.
A brilliant band and a live experience to match. 10/10.
Photo: Annabel Staff/Redferns via Getty Images