The War on Drugs at the Bluebird Theater, 3-27-14 (photos, review)By Amy McGrath | March 27th, 2014 | No Comments »
The War on Drugs founder and frontman Adam Granduciel was “in the middle of a Stage 3 emotional meltdown” during the band’s performance at the Bluebird Theater on Wednesday night. “But I’m not to Stage 6…” he explained, triumphantly, after sharing the story of a semi that ran the group’s van off the interstate and into an embankment on the way to Denver. The anecdote adding a fine layer of subtext to the evening, the War on Drugs’ music is the perfect soundtrack to soothe a Stage 3 Emotional Breakdown.
Following a strong, interesting performance from Virginia indie-pop band White Laces, the War on Drugs opened with a set front-loaded with material from the emotional new release “Lost in a Dream.” A noted perfectionist, Granduciel started the set frustrated with and distracted by sound and technical issues, but eventually relaxed into a comfortable groove. The band comes across as mellow in its recorded work, but live the War on Drugs shows it has an intimate relationship with loud to soft dynamics. Throughout the night it was a tug-of-war between the mellow drifters and the solo-heavy freakouts.
There are lots of influences reflected in the band’s sound, which rides the hipster edge of jam music with jangly guitar flourish over synth drone and a generous dash of classic rock elements. Vocally, Granduciel evokes a less-gravelly combination of “Blood on the Tracks” era Dylan colored with Springsteen’s yips and howls. His guitar skills are impressive; twinkling, cascading lines that offer a melodic thread which runs through all of the band’s work.
Lyrically and musically, the War on Drugs draws from a transcendentalist tradition of exploring the inherent connection between beauty, sadness, wonder, pain, and joy that are all rolled together in the human experience. One of the highlights of the evening came near the end of the set with the rock and roll march of “Come to the City,” from 2011’s excellent release “Slave Ambient.” Granduciel’s mournful and life-affirming howl evoked both Springsteen (think “I’m on Fire”) and poet Walt Whitman “Sounding his barbaric yawp from the rooftops of the world.” It was a cathartic moment for band and crowd alike.
As the War on Drugs finished its set with a four-song encore — including an excellent cover of John Lennon’s “Mind Games” –, the Bluebird audience was clearly happy to share in what one satisfied fan referred to as “the best emotional meltdown ever!”
Amy McGrath is a Denver-based writer and regular contributor to Reverb.