A War on Drugs That Makes Sense

December 12th, 2011

The War on Drugs – The Bowery Ballroom – December 11, 2011

You know how in certain kinds of movies, there’s that straight-laced annoying guy who accidentally eats the wrong brownies and all of the sudden he’s on some psychedelic introspective journey? Well something like that is happening to indie rock right now, with several bands providing the baked goods and your straight-up guitar/bass/ drums/keys shoegazing pop taking off its shoes and shirt and losing itself in the moment. Leading that charge is the War on Drugs, the Philadelphia band that turned a Sunday night rock show at The Bowery Ballroom into a psych-pop head-trip.

The War on Drugs seemed to play their music inside out, with hairy stretches of music occasionally broken up by lyrics. Songs stretched past their end point with short, electrifying noise jams persisting in the space between; harmonica and sax providing a cosmic edge. The music wasn’t focused on a catch or a hook or a chorus for the bouncing crowd to sing along to—rather it seemed to generate its own alternate reality with nettled guitar and off-meter drumming and Blood on the Tracks-era songsmanship. And the driver was Dave Hartley’s bass, playing nonstop Dali-melting-clocks riffs.

The show was punctuated by tunes from the band’s acclaimed 2011 release, Slave Ambient, but when you’re playing a sold-out show, there’s little reason to devote too much time to selling a new album and the War on Drugs bounced through their catalog nicely. Songs flowed into one another with a dreamy stream of consciousness until it felt like you might be dreaming because it sounded like they were playing the Grateful Dead. Indeed, it’s not everyday you get to hear a droning, silly-putty cover of “Touch of Grey” at The Bowery Ballroom by a band passing around a bottle of Maker’s Mark, but that’s the kind of thing that happens when you eat the brownies the War on Drugs are making these days. —A. Stein

Photos courtesy of Mike Benigno |