Thursday, December 11

The War on Drugs, Roundhouse, Guy Fawkes Night

A low reverberating thrum starts up as the band members slip onstage. The lights glow blue, brighter and brighter. The audience is gradually submerged into the “daydream Springsteen” world of Philadelphia’s The War on Drugs. 

Their latest album Lost in the Dream is still, eight months on from its release, enjoying a well-deserved spot in the limelight. And it is light which defines this band and their presence in the Roundhouse tonight. The stage lighting is wonderful throughout the show, fulfilling the music’s hints of hazy skylines, transcendent American sunsets and a measured, muted transition between colours. Add in front man Adam Granduciel’s sincere singing, the wistful yet snarling guitars, the wandering snatches of synth, saxophone and harmonica, and the recurring piano chords, and the effect is mesmerising. The music, like the lighting, immerses and illuminates the audience completely. 

Opening act and fellow Philadelphian Steve Gunn deftly introduces the type of sound which permeates the night; a captivating sound, the result of the way The War on Drugs blur and elongate their American rock influences, weaving them into something new and open-ended. The band’s indefinite, dreamy qualities provide an interesting contrast to the crisp November evening outside. Some of this earnest autumnal cold seems to be summoned onstage by the six-piece group: tonight they play a louder more powerful sound than is generally heard on their records. 

Perhaps it’s because of the size and diversity of the band that the music is so energetic - at one point, during the song An Ocean in Between the Waves, all the players jam together in perfect synchronicity - or maybe it’s because underneath the meandering notes lies the urgency of Granduciel’s lyrics. “I’m just a burning man trying to keep the ship from turning over,” he sings. (With essay deadlines looming I sort of know how he feels.) 

The live energy of The War on Drugs is certainly not down to any extra-ordinary showmanship on Granduciel’s part; apart from a few brief words now and again, he lets his songs do the talking. And this is fine. Hearing an extra kick to records which, as Laura Barton put it, “wrap you up in the wonderfully sticky web of their music,” creates a sensation which is as powerful as it is light. 

Steve Gunn's album Way Out Weather is going to be my spring 2015 soundtrack, I can feel it

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