The War on Drugs Take a Giant LeapMarch 20th, 2014
The War on Drugs – The Bowery Ballroom – March 19, 2014
If you, like most fans of music, find yourself enjoying the new War on Drugs album, Lost in a Dream, seeing them performing it live will give you a reason to obsess over the LP. Most critics consider the new album a nice step forward for the band, but the amount of effort and craft they’ve put behind how the songs sound live makes that step seem much more like a giant leap. Last night at The Bowery Ballroom was the first of the band’s three sold-out shows in the city, so lucky for us New Yorkers, there are more chances to experience their new material in its most perfect form.
Adam Granduciel filled out “Under the Pressure” with a steady undercurrent of impressive guitar work, spackling delicate improvised riffs into every groove. For “Eyes to the Wind,” perhaps the most beautiful song the band has written to date, a scorching saxophone solo burned down every last bit of energy from the tune’s extended climax. “An Ocean in Between the Waves” built up momentum like a staircase, until it almost became out of their control, like the song’s energy was so strong it had the band running to keep up with it. Future sets are bound to include some surprises as well. The War on Drugs brought back “Come to the City” for their encore, performing it for the first time in two years, with Granduciel free to push his voice to its limits—and beyond—as one of the night’s closers.
The War on Drugs have always been able to create an atmosphere around their songs, like their harmonies are plucked out of the synth-driven cosmos. But these new songs made me think it’s more the opposite. Granduciel went through a lot to piece together Lost in a Dream: the end of a long-term relationship, some doubt about his future as a musician. But strong emotions have a way of bending our perception of the world around us. Just like in a dream, it’s our emotions that build the worlds we create in our sleep. And while songs on an album fill out a finite amount of space, performed live, Granduciel’s free to determine how deep we follow those dreams down their wormholes. It’s a band’s call on when to wake us from those dreams. —Dan Rickershauser