The War On Drugs cast a spell on the Granada last night

The War On Drugs
The Granada, Lawrence
Saturday, October 11

As the doors at the Granada opened last night, the queue for the War On Drugs stretched down the block. The crowd was an eclectic mix of both young and old, drawn to see a band whose renown has grown by leaps and bounds this year. By the time the band started their headlining set, the Granada was absolutely packed with an intensely attentive audience who watched with rapt wonder.

It was telling, perhaps, that the pre-show music during the War On Drugs’ setup was a mixture of songs like the Velvet Underground’s “White Light White Heat” and the Allman Brothers’ “Midnight Rider,” because the band would combine deceptively simple rock and roll with blissed-out jams all night. From the moment the band took the stage, the music started shimmering and the lights started strobing. When the drums locked into the hypnotic rhythm of “Under the Pressure,” the audience was under the spell of the War On Drugs.

The band’s sound is so big, so very lush, it’s almost difficult to put into words. Granted, with two guitarists, a bank of keyboards and a sax player, referring to the band as “lightly proggy” isn’t overstepping things. The absolute wash of sound created by the War On Drugs’ ensemble is akin to standing in front of a crashing wave. For all the harmonies, there was a definite power behind the band. Hell, during “Arms Like Boulders,” the kick drum vibrated an empty Bud Light tallboy off a table and onto the floor.

“A pleasure to play here, Lawrence. It’s the first night everyone has ear plugs — we’re a little disconnected,” said singer, guitarist and songwriting mastermind Adam Granduciel after a few songs.

Frankly, though, I was the one who felt disconnected, because Granduciel’s vocals were completely muffled for the entirety of the War On Drugs’ set. It was like listening to Bob Dylan sing through a pillow, making Granduciel more like another instrument than a distinct lyrical force. The muffling was so bad that most between-song banter was rendered inaudible and confusing.

It did all get a bit much, making the simple piano intro to “Eyes to the Wind” a welcome respite. The band’s sound was so loud and so voluminous that it became necessary to step into the Granada’s front bar every few songs to take a break from the sheer quantity of music flowing at me. The bridge between “Eyes to the Wind” and “Burning” built into a staccato pulse which gained intensity so strongly, I felt a need to retreat and regroup in order to regain some use of my faculties. Charlie Hall on the drums was a sheer force of nature, and that rumbling earthquake combined with a “psychedelic saxophone solo” so laden with effects, it became a washing wave of noise rather than any sort of discernible song.

Ultimately, that was what the War On Drugs’ show was last night: one grandiose piece of music, rather than individual songs. With everything so loud and so intense, and the vocals so obscured, what you’d experienced by night’s end was less a set, and more a happening — an experience you, the band, and the rest of the audience went through together. Exiting the building, you started to put it together, and tried to process just what you’d seen.

Opening act the Barr Brothers had a sound far more dense and layered than their innocuous name would otherwise suggest. In their opening song, “Love Ain’t Enough,” alone, the quintet mixed harp and standard rock instrumentation with a drummer who was also playing a steel guitar like a hammered dulcimer. The Barr Brothers’ tightly-packed melodies wove in on themselves, creating a beautiful atmosphere.

Unfortunately, frontman Brad Barr’s vocals never really matched the power of the band behind him, floating thinly over the top of the rich instrumentation like lackluster Paul Simon. It’s a shame, because on the few times his vocals rose to the occasion, like the furious slide-guitar blues he led on “Half Crazy,” the Barr Brothers were a true powerhouse.

Also: No setlist – sorry. It was almost impossible to piece one together. But if anyone has it, feel free to post in the comments. 

Categories: Music