A HYPNOTIC PURSUIT WITH THE WAR ON DRUGS
The seven piece capture their expansive sound at Edinburgh’s Corn Exchange.
Fresh from a triumphant venture to London’s O2 Arena, Philadelphia’s seven-piece roll straight into a more humble two-night run at Edinburgh’s Corn Exchange, a roughly 2,800 cap. venue that sits near enough to the outskirts of the astute Scottish city.
Tonight is their last UK date before they embark on a European leg, and the audience is a welcome mix of all kinds: people you could imagine grew up with the music of Springsteen, Petty and Dylan - often mentioned in the same breath as The War on Drugs when searching for sound-alikes - as well as a younger, expectant part of the crowd. Maybe recruited by the new record, the big Grammy win off the back of ‘A Deeper Understanding’, sharp-eared friends, parents or the algorithm, it’s hard to know. The nice thing about this band is that they have listeners that come from all directions, just to congregate for an effortless night of live music. There’s no gimmicks, no distractions: so for those wanting something classic and true, TWoD are your band.
Though The War on Drugs’ discography is loaded with ageless anthems, all similarly charged with a confident, stadium-ready sound; there’s something very charmingly anti-rockstar about their presence. Don’t get me wrong: together, they deliver an absolutely stellar show — exactly as tight as their records sound, aided by perfect, crystal clear mixing from the sound-desk. The residence of each member of the septet is felt, and every second of their setlist translates dazzlingly into an almost trancelike live experience.
But despite a perfect homage to, and even renewal of, an era of rock gone-by — The War on Drugs onstage truly just feel like a group of old friends, lucky enough to both play together, and make such magic when they do. There’s a goofiness to frontman Adam Granduciel, as he chases his guitar-tech and jokingly kicks into the air as he comes onstage to change over instruments.
Someone impatient in the crowd demands a song and so Granduciel jests, “We’re getting to it! Can you wait… [as he counts] 1, 2, 3, 4 songs?”, received by a firm ‘no’, he hits back with “You come up and do it then!”. This kind of playfulness against a solid sonic world — now affirmed over a nearly 20 year career — is refreshing, and allows for their personality to shine through.
Obvious crowd favourites include their sophomore album’s biggest smash, ‘Red Eyes’. Emblematic of any good indie rock hit, the guitar hook is vocalised by the crowd up at the front - quickly stretching back with a bounce, like a wave of good energy. The hypnotic synth click and slow build of ‘Under The Pressure’ bursts as the audience kick up Scotland’s infamous “here we, here we” chant, and front to back, it feels like joy.
Not ignoring the delivery of more tender lyrical moments, like in the title track of their 2021 release, ‘I Don’t Live Here Anymore’: “Time surrounds me like an ocean / My memories like waves / Is life just dying in slow motion / Or getting stronger everyday?” - creating clarity and space for the words to breathe, against the beautiful, beating membrane of the instrumental.
There are moments where Granduciel turns to the harmonica, á la Bob Dylan, with a little more finesse perhaps. Other times, he’s ripping a solo - eyes to the jazzmaster - and it’s almost meditative for a channel so laden in compression. How The War on Drugs create such mystique could be a talking point for hours - it’s a skill.
In the encore, the band pay tribute to local folk-rock legends, The Waterboys, with a rousing cover of ‘A Pagan Place’. The closer is the 15 minute epic, ‘Thinking of A Place’ - which when pressed on a 12”, had to stretch over both the A and B side of the record. During this song you’re aware of the ebb and flow of their music, and how tidal their tunes feel. It’s peaceful, restorative and all together, makes you forget where you’re stood - and for how long.
There’s clearly a pedestal for a band like The War on Drugs. Take Sam Fender: a household name, capable of topping the charts and filling arenas, both echoing TWoD’s familiar sound and being self-declared fan — also joking that he himself ‘rips off’ The Boss. For a more intimate, veteran take, see The War on Drugs. A wistful but workmanlike performance that - in its two hour window - elevates and transcends a ticketholder, somewhere into the big blue.