The War on Drugs played a well-rounded bill at the Hi-Dive on Sunday. - Reverb

Live review: The War on Drugs, Purling Hiss and Carter Tanton @ the Hi-Dive

By Ian Gassman

On Sunday, the War on Drugs stopped by the Hi-Dive to showcase its unique brand of roots-rock. Oddly enough, the Philadelphia-based quartet wasn’t traveling alone and played the show with two fellow East Coast bands. Without any local acts on the bill, there was a sense of solidarity within the lineup and, if anything, this left many audience members intrigued. (Listen to our Mile Marker with the War on Drugs – and download four free songs from Reverb and the band.)

After the doors opened and more people trickled in, Baltimore native, Carter Tanton, got his set of songs underway. Each of his varying tunes and melodies — flushed out by his steady drummer and fluid synth player — sounded fresh. But his chorus-laden guitar work and monotone vocal lines immediately recalled Jim O’ Rourke’s spacey approach to songwriting. By the end of Tanton’s opening set, however, his modest audience seemed energized.

Purling Hiss carried on this energy as the crowd began to grow. The War on Drugs frontman Adam Granduciel even noted that the guys in “the Hiss” were his friends from back in Philly — hence the trio’s worthy spot on this tour.

Moreover, Purling Hiss offered up a grungy, blues-tinged wild card that set the night apart. The drums were bombastic, the bass was thick and the frontman had a penchant for ripping wild, pentatonic solos. Although some songs blurred the lines between Pavement, Dinosaur Jr. and early Pearl Jam, the trio never fully played into The War on Drugs’ psychedelic style.

So once the grunge was done, avid fans of the War on Drugs seem relieved. And, after some minor setup, Granduciel and his bandmates loudly broke through the remaining anticipation.

As heard on their recent album, Slave Ambient, the band did a great job of blending songs together. Even when they played old tracks from albums like Wagonwheel Blues or the Future Weather EP, each element became more driven than the last, until the performance turned into an electrifying wash of sound. This was complemented by Granduciel’s frenetic lead-guitar work. But the quartet’s subtle Americana influences were truly evident when multi-instrumentalist, Robbie Bennett, strummed his 12-string acoustic or implemented his electric piano.

After nearly 1 hour and 15 minutes of music (plus a hearty encore) the audience was satisfied and rather dazed by the War on Drugs lengthy set. But it wasn’t drugs that made Granduciel and his bandmates step back and take their time. No, there’s something about being amongst your friends in a room filled with energy that just makes you want to keep playing.