Despite an overall great show at the Apollo, The War on Drugs made some artistic decisions that left reviewer Calum Pinder somewhat frustrated
The War on Drugs are a Philadelphia Americana rock band. The band was formed in 2008, by lead guitarist Adam Granduciel and vocalist Kurt Vile, who left the band after the first album. Since then they have produced consistently great albums and are now touring their 4th full-length.
A Deeper Understanding builds on the success of 2014’s Lost in a Dream, layering instrumentation under Granduciel’s uniquely recognisable vocals. It’s a testament to the band’s success that they have sold out two consecutive nights at the O2 Apollo.
The support act, Montreal folk band The Barr Brothers, were a surprising treat to catch. They played sprawling folk songs which have been well adapted for live performance. Although not the tightest band, they performed a dynamic range of tracks, each only a taste of what they have to offer. I was most impressed by the care with which Sarah Pagé’s harp was given space to add to the songs, never feeling unnecessary or drowned out.
After a short wait, The War on Drugs took to the stage. They opened with three tracks from A Deeper Understanding and a hazy atmosphere took hold of the room, resembling the tone of the album. None of the tracks were rushed, allowing the solos and outros breathe. The careful attention each track received and the wall of synths the band created, lead the audience into a trance-like state.
Meanwhile, Granduciel’s introspective lyrics and guitar melodies floated above it all. Coloured lights cast shadows of the band onto a screen behind, creating a simple yet wonderful accompanying visual. The total effect was a blurry emotive performance that was easy to get lost in.
Towards the latter half of the set though, a few problems became apparent. Despite consistently strong and well-performed songs, there was a lack of variation between many of the cuts from the last two albums. Although it arguably supports the hazy nature of the show, it still felt as though something was missing.
This slight dissatisfaction was fed by another thing. Adam Granduciel’s guitar solos are an integral part of The War on Drugs’ sound. However, it was a shame not to have seen the rest of the band taking the lead on one of the many solos. Whether this was due to a lack of confidence or a more overarching artistic decision, the longer the set continued the more noticeable it became.
However, these minor qualms certainly did’t negate the fact that this was a great gig. Old and new material blended well to form a heady atmosphere well suited to the large crowd at the Apollo.
Although this time a lack of variation felt like a drag, I remain excited for what’s to come. I look forward to their return, hopefully with a brand new album that reaches the heights of those that came before.
Sunday 12th November