Let’s start with this – it is so fucking life affirming to see live music again. It’s easy to forget how great the experience is when you can watch most of your favorite bands play concerts behind a tiny desk on your phone. Seeing The War On Drugs for the first time, at the Shrine Auditorium on the last night of their tour, was a powerful reminder of the effect of music in a thunderously loud setting. The crowd, about 2/3 of which was unmasked, seemed more than ready to enter the post-pandemic phase of life. It was refreshing to see a non-jaded LA crowd ready to rock, with multiple fists in the air as the music took flight.
I don’t know much about playing music, but TWOD embraces open chords in a way that makes you realize how powerful they sound. Especially live. It’s a trick that Keith mastered and bands like U2 leveraged mightily. For The War On Drugs, it’s practically a requirement to most of their songs. The knock is that they don’t seem to say much. It’s more of a feeling. But that’s ok. Especially when we’re emerging out from under the 2+ year rock that is/was the pandemic.
I had a hard time pegging them prior to the show. Cool band, sure, but something seemed to be missing in my fandom. Something keeping me from putting them in the modern rock pantheon. It was odd since a Radiohead fan begets a Wilco fan begets a LCD Soundsystem fan etc etc. They always felt like a band I should love. It took me seeing them live to figure out what has been lacking for me. But figure it out, I did.
Ready? Here goes.
I’m more than familiar with The War On Drugs’ oeuvre. Yet I don’t know more than a few of their songs titles by name. Tracks often feel interchangeable, and similar in length. I recognize the “hits”, but recognize almost none of their lyrics. No fucking clue what lead singer Adam Granduciel is singing, or what about. Open tunes usually yield concert singalongs. Not here. Which is fine. But that feels limiting at times.
Before you mistake this for a negative review, to be clear – when everything clicks for TWOD, as it did back to back during “I Don’t Live Here Anymore” w/Lucius, and “Under The Pressure”, live rock performance knows no limits. The later track took it to another level, where it felt like the Shrine was going to soar over the Hollywood sign in the distance.
Granduciel makes for a somewhat odd frontman. His understated appearance gives off an air of how we all felt as a teenager, cranking tunes in our bedroom and pretending to be rock stars in front of the mirror. Back when that was the most profound expression of creative energy we could muster. But you can’t get around the fact that he is an excellent guitarist, backed by a quintet of super talented musicians, most of whom have keyboards in front of them, which allows for a dense, expansive sound on almost everyone one of their extended performances.
As an aside, there’s a new feeling at a sold out concert venue, coming out of one of the tougher stretches of covid. People appear to be still climbing the learning curve of being a member of society. At first I was ready to peg women ahead of the curve on this social ascension. Women at least seem to have an outfit in their closet on standby for hitting the town, where men can be a hodgepodge by comparison. Then I saw a woman who, I kid you not, boozily tumbled to the ground next to her seat not once but twice. It was something, seeing someone who appeared to be in their mid-thirties hitting the canvas like a mouth piece-less Tyson stumbling vs Buster Douglass. Been out much? Shout out to the lady in row 8 seat 2 – water and Advil, honey.
Driving home, I decided that while I love attending sporting events, if I were to get season tickets to anything, it would be live music. Hey Ticketmaster, why don’t you launch a “Prime” service that allows me to pay a couple hundred bucks for the right to exclusive pre-sales? Make it happen.