The War on Drugs Provide Easter Treats

April 9th, 2012

The War on Drugs – The Bowery Ballroom – April 9, 2012

I’m guessing it’s not easy to sell out a show on Easter Sunday, but Philly’s the War on Drugs did just that and gave the Bowery Ballroom audience a basketful of treats in the process. Opening with “Arms Like Boulders” off 2008’s Wagonwheel Blues, Adam Granduciel and the band showed the tightness of a group that claimed to have been on an eight-month multicontinental tour. Early on it was David Hartley’s tumbling, deep-throated bass that supplied the bounce to Granduciel’s troubadour lyrics and vocals. But the band proved to be a musical Easter egg and cracked open its songwriter shell to reveal, gooey, psychedelic stretches, with resonating guitar and Day-Glo jams.

Appropriate for the holiday weekend, the band was in a friendly mood, dedicating several songs to friends and members of the audience, including “Comin’ Through” to Dan “NYC Taper” Lynch, recording up in the balcony. Here, the lights went full-on psychedelic pastel, with the War on Drugs playing from inside an Easter egg as the guitar reverberated into the room. From there, things got impressively weirder, with songs melting into one another, echoing trumpets going intergalactic and the lights swirling into UFO shapes bounding behind the band. Later, they brought out friends Doug Keith and Jimmy Carbonetti of Caveman to beef up the big guitar jam in “Brothers.” Granduciel has a distinct guitar tone with gnarled toeholds that help his solos climb otherwise unwieldy mountains.

As the set wore on, the music seemed to get louder and more intense, but the sound in the room was perfectly balanced and crisp throughout, allowing each nuance of the full-band jams—and they were certainly jamming at this point—to be digested. The lone cover of the night saw a switch to 12-string acoustic, which brought a hypnotic dream-like quality to the Waterboys“A Pagan Place.” The set ended appropriately with a big psych jam, heavy with drums, double keyboards, looping guitar and feedback all ensconced in rainbow lights, like an overturned Easter basket of sound. Like the show itself, the three-song encore started as a perfectly formed chocolate bunny, but the band nibbled at it until it became a surrealistic, unrecognizable, truly delicious mass of sound. And the closing number, “It’s Your Destiny,” built into an awe-inspiring outer-space free-for-all. —A. Stein