“The whole is greater than the sum of its parts” – Aristotle
The fine line between influence and plagiarism has been transgressed countless times in the history of what we term popular music. Whilst there is always space to nudge, cajole and lever into a different corner of that particular genre’s room, it is a brave move to wear your influences so blatant and yet proud. To have the style and grace to do this and yet create a fresh piece of art is a synergistic effect, which the above quote describes perfectly. The War on Drugs began life as an almost Dylan pastiche on the debut album Wagon Wheel Blues, with it being a joint composition from current singer and songwriter Adam Granduciel and Kurt Vile. After the departure of Vile, it soon became apparent with the follow up Slave Ambient that the Dylanism’s were emanating mostly him and the album in hindsight was a band shedding its musical skin and moving inexorably forward.
The group are yet another that have managed to create a divisive opinion on their merits and on a personal level I have a group of friends who consistently attend concerts together and who all share a common musical taste but at Rock City in Nottingham on Sunday, March 1st, I travelled alone, was I wrong or were they? The group also recently faced harsh criticism from Sun Kil Moon frontman Mark Kozelek during their set clash at Ottawa Folk Festival. Kozelek reportedly called the band “beer commercial, lead guitar shit,” before declaring that the next song in their set was called “The War On Drugs Can Suck My Fucking Dick”.
The support slot for the current tour was covered by Amen Dunes, who seemed to have taken the laconic slacker attitude to the next level, less Grateful Dead, just about managing to be grateful for at least being alive was the all-pervading feeling as they meandered through a short resume of their current songs. The War on Drugs opened with a blistering version of “Under the Pressure” from the new album, and proceeded to wear their Waterboys, Dylan and even Deacon Blue influences as a badge of honour rather than an embarrassed shame. Most of the new album was covered in the fourteen-song set (including encore), highlighted by the title track and “Red Eyes” (QRO review), with “Suffering” just about heartfelt enough to moisten an eye or two. Life it seems cannot be any better for Granuciel, who is dating the actress Krysten Ritter of Breaking Bad fame, coupled with the success of the current Lost In the Dream album and a sell-out tour, he probably doesn’t give two fucks about the aggressive opinion of Kozelek, which coincidentally was also my own opinion on my friends apathy to the life affirming music on offer.