Under the Pressure: Inside The War on Drugs’ New Wave Rock Party

Posted May 27, 2015 by J Matthew Cobb in Reviews 1.0

The War on Drugs brings ambiance of their prized hit LP to the stage

The War on Drugs
Iron City
April 3, 2015, 9 pm

2014 was definitely the year for the Philadelphia rock band War on Drugs. After dropping the band’s quintessential record, Lost in a Dream, critics pounced on them like they were the the saviors of rock. And it’s easy to fall for the band’s eccentric musical formula. With a little Bruce Springsteen and the interesting synth glaze of ’80s New Wave neatly tucked in the background, the band’s glorious third album has taken them from obscurity to acclaimed notoriety in a fraction of months. Prior to the record’s arrival, lots of transition took place. Some of it relied on roster changes. Then the anguish from an unbreakable season of touring turned into a unbreakable depression for frontman Adam Granduciel. That pain can be heard inside the lyrics of much of the album. And that experience proved to be quite beneficial in making the record so accessible and transferable to the masses.

At 9:02 pm, The War on Drugs took to the stage at Birmingham’s Iron City with “Under the Pressure” and flowed through much of the material documenting their latest record. Every now and then, the band made a careful exit into past material. The second song — “Arms Like Boulders,” a track from 2008’s Barrel of Batteries — was rife with a rootsy rock and roll pulse and a gospel blues strut. He fully displayed Bob Dylan influences on the enigmatic frontman. Immediately following “Arms Like Boulders” came 2011’s “Baby Missiles,” a song that allowed traces of Vampire Weekend to pour into their performance.

This live set mostly featured the gravitas executed on Lost In The Dream, an epiphany of an album in recent rock history. You could hear “Young Turks” all over “Burning,” one of the highlights of the set. As Granduicel edged further into Springsteen live status, he whips out a menacing lead solo and even found himself harmonizing on the closing of the second verse. Audiences in the very front started hopping with glee over the euphoric jamming. Then the song flows into the next using the fade-out gloss of “Purple Rain.” Granduciel plays out the last guitar strokes with a potent evanescence, so does keyboardist Robbie Bennett, who could be seen on the edge of the stage completely surrounded by a series of synthesizers . “Lost in the Dream” eventually steps in, so does a chorus powered by “yeah, yeah” chants and sweeping, ethereal instrumental breaks.

A shift into Eighties-tinged drum programming with a “Flashdance” tempo enters the picture. It sound as if a train is approaching. Then enters the first few chords of “An Ocean In Between the Waves” and therapeutic atmospheric guitar wails, harmonica solos, nostalgic ’80s beats and even a little vocal echo. The display of their live workout showcases amazing adrenaline — the manifested spirit of rock ‘n roll.

As Granduicel rolls out introductions of his six-piece band, he briefly acknowledges The Bottletree, a famed Birmingham institution that recently closed its doors for good. The band then jumps into “Eyes to the Wind,” a moving midtempo song that feels like a indirect ode to the shuttering of the aforementioned musical landmark. “So I’ll set my eyes to the wind/But it won’t be easy to leave it all again,” he sings. The last time The War on Drugs played Birmingham was at The Bottletree in 2012; they were an opening act for White Rabbits.

A wuzzy one-minute intro opens up “In Reverse,” leading into a series of Journey-like guitar chords decorated with a space-decorated synths. “And I don’t mind you disappearing/’Cause I know you can be found,” Granduicel sings as if he’s preparing for an eventual exit. And he did. After a rowdy call from fans, he and the band comes back for a much-deserved thirty-minute encore.  The War on Drugs, with no gimmicks or unnecessary chatter involved, satisfied the crowd with intimate strolls through 2011’s “Best Night” and the Quiet Storm embossed “Suffering.” The encore was more driven to true music aficionados, exploring their previous albums Future Weather and Wagonwheel Blues.


Song List

Under the Pressure
Baby Missiles
Arms Like Boulders
Lost in the Dream
An Ocean in Between the Waves
Eyes to the Wind
Red Eyes
In Reverse
Your Love Is Calling My Name

Best Night
Comin’ Through
Buenos Aires Beach

About the Author

J Matthew Cobb

Managing editor of HiFi Magazine


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