The War on Drugs 2nd album, Slave Ambient, broke the band out of its earlier niche and catapulted them to the lips of every music fan, to the top of every 2011 album list worth its salt (QRO Top Albums of 2011). It seemed no one at all could resist that effortless, romantic Americana of Slave Ambient, and the band became a by-word for soothing psychedelica. No wonder, then, that singer Adam Granduciel was just one of the latest musicians to comment on the size of the venue they were about to play, indulging their incredulity of the friendliness of that hard, cold city called London that has gone from shoving them bottom of the bill at the Old Blue Last to enthusiastically affording them a space they daren’t have reached, Electric Ballroom on February 28th.
Support came in the form of London’s own Weird Dreams, a conscientious study in late ‘80s dream pop that has seen them become one of the most excitedly spoken about new bands in the city. And for whom this spot has done nothing except further their reputation as a solid and imaginative unit.
Anyone who had been expecting a carbon copy of the tracks from both Slave Ambient and Wagonwheel Blues were instantly corrected – almost as though we had collectively taken a chainsaw to the face. The War On Drugs one naively expected to see were the hypnotic and dreamlike, Dylan-inspired songs on record. The War On Drugs that one saw were a psychedelic rock band. It was, frankly, incredible.
The songs, feline and coquettish on record but live, they roared like lions; guitars howled and wailed, stretching songs you’d held dear into sprawling masses of sound as impenetrable as cement walls, until you thought you could no longer stand it. But on it continued, a completely different animal: ferocious, powerful, and yet never leaving behind the band’s sense of jubilant pride. An interlude came forth in the form of inviting a member of the audience to the stage to play guitar, the crowd eager and supportive.
And then it was back to the endurance test, with all the thunder, blast and grit, waves upon waves of sound, of instruments played to their last breath, the band themselves playing practically to within an inch of their lives. Almost two hours after the first few chords the band finally retreated, exhausted, spent, but positively euphoric; not unlike the crowd itself.