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The War on Drugs

Granduciel, War on Drugs Resurrect, Revitalize

written by: on December 22, 2011

The stage floor was covered in layers of entangled black, vibrating, electric vines. Each one with a life of its own. Each one threatening to climb up and ensnare the ankles of the band members and engulf guitar stands. They cascaded out of the backs of two adjacent keyboards and one synthesizer, out of a guitar, a bass, out of amps and mics, and connected and relayed and ended and began to, through, on and from over a dozen effects pedals—a dauntingly elaborate set-up but necessary for the band to recreate their heavily produced sound.

Once the sounds journeyed through the maze of wires and became precisely tweaked and transformed they blended invisibly over the heads of the packed room at Lincoln Hall, into the The War on Drugs’ signature Boss-gaze. The War on Drugs has firmly planted their flag in these soundscapes. They stand alone as the ones putting a new twist on Americana, spritzing our age-old Coca-Colas with lime.

Without any lead-in, the band began their set. Placing the bar high for themselves starting off with “Best Night”—a bit presumptuous.

Behind his curtain of hair, standing stiffly, Adam Granduciel wheezed out his nasally strain, his monotone Dylan, a much more lifeless drone live than it is on recordings, and languidly strummed his guitar.

Nearly all of Slave Ambient, the band’s latest release, was played with, sadly, only a couple of tracks from their 2008 debut full-length Wagonwheel Blues making the set list, “Arms like Boulders” being among them, a great song and their best played live.

They had a difficult time translating “Come to the City” into a live performance, unfortunately. The effects, that play a prominent role in the recorded version of the song, didn’t compliment the melody but rather drowned it out and muddled the rest of the production, which was a shame because it’s a great song.

A “Touch of Grey” cover, justified by Mickey Hart’s (Grateful Dead) concert scheduled a little over a week later at Lincoln Hall, was received with cheers and raised plastic cups, which had the amber beer glowing above the heads of people in the crowd from the backlighting on the stage. The crowd bounced in anticipation and simultaneously released with excitement as they shouted the chorus, “We will get by,” in unison during the song.

As the show progressed, it seemed each song was dedicated to some other mononymous person: Greg, Rich, Steve.

On one such occasion, when Granduciel mentioned Rich’s name, the alleged “Rich” cheered, causing a spotlight-blinded Granduciel to turn his head towards this “Rich,” and ask, “Is Amanda here?” To which Rich replied, “No.” To which Granduciel replied, “Oh.” To which everyone else felt excluded.

Throughout the show drummer Steven Urgo blankly stared, intensely focused on keeping time— a product of coercion because of his having to typically do so without any vocal or instrumental cues from anyone else in the band. Often he was forced to take the shapeless melding of reverberations and looped guitar and bass riffs and sax squawks and turn them into something with structure. He was given the raw materials to make a wall, the wet cement and mortar, and it was up to him to form, stack and organize them into a composition, into a wall of sound. And he did so seamlessly.

As the band’s last song disintegrated into one of these entrancing endless abysses of pulsing melody and texture, some final notes were left to loop through the amplifiers while the band put their respective instruments down and walked calmly through the stage’s back curtain, leaving behind a ghostly image of an empty stage producing ubiquitous noise.

Come lights-on and recorded music over the PA, it was a decent night, great show.