Neo-psychedelic rockers, The War on Drugs, led by Philly native Adam Granduciel, return with a collection of live performances, spanning their last six years on the road. LIVE DRUGS encapsulates the evolution of the most exhilarating live band on the planet. In concert, The War on Drugs are truly unafraid to morph and twist their melodically distorted sound, taking it to a different plane from their already heavily-layered, powerful studio material.
This is their first release since the mammoth A Deeper Understanding in 2017. It’s also a dedication of sorts to the key partnership between Granduciel and the album’s co-producer Dominic East; friend, guitar tech and stage manager. Half of the album is accounted for by tracks from the 2014 breakthrough album Lost in the Dream. A raw and alive ‘An Ocean Between the Waves’, from the aforementioned album kicks off the proceedings.
The magical ‘Pain’, from A Deeper Understanding, is a close version to the album issue, yet feels enhanced by a looser and more fluid interpretation. In any case, it remains a truly beautiful song that breaks your heart and lifts you up in the same breath. There is no clear indication of where and when exactly the songs were performed. Despite stretching across gigs between 2014 and 2019, the album is produced in a way that it can be listened to as a complete, visceral experience.
A lone criticism is that the album leaves you wanting more with the relatively limited number of ten tracks. It could be debated that the choice of tracks is surprising, albeit always a challenge on a condensed live album. No more so than the cover of the Warren Zevron song, ‘Accidentally Like a Martyr’ – a favourite on The Drugs set-list over the years. The soulful ‘Buenos Aires Beach’ is the only track from their debut album Wagonwheel Blues.
The twelve-minute ‘Under the Pressure’ is simply a masterpiece and played live, it only accentuates the song’s pure brilliance, building up the tension through Granduciel’s musical craftsmanship. The euphoric, joyful reaction from the audience can be heard with them singing along to the instrumental melodies as the song glides towards its crescendo. Similarly, ‘Red Eyes’ is a delight in full flow, bubbling with energy and power. ‘Strangest Thing’ has a warm texture to it, but doesn’t lose its potency, with its piercing guitar solos.
Granduciel explains, “As a bandleader, I always want to know where a song can go,”. “Even though we’ve recorded it, mastered it, put it out, and been touring on it, it doesn’t mean that we just have to do it the same way forever.” This is framed perfectly in ‘Eyes to the Wind’ from Lost in the Dream. With the mix of a strong rhythm section, sax (Jon Natchez) and piano (Robbie Bennett), it is difficult not to hear parallels with the live show of another US east-coast juggernaut – Bruce Springsteen.
LIVE DRUGS captures a special band at the apex of their talents. Granduciel’s work-ethic, vision and genius have delivered a sublime sound & created an unbreakable bond with audiences across the globe. This album is testament to these accomplishments and a primer for what could be one of the biggest years in terms of gigs during 2021.
The fifth War on Drugs album is well-underway and could see a release at some point next year. With the recent political shift bringing a hint of positivity to the air, it will be interesting to see what shape their music takes.