The War on Drugs at the Independent, 4/2/14

Releasing arguably one of the best albums of 2014, Lost in the Dream, The War on Drugs played the final of their two sold-out shows last night at The Independent. Having never seen them before, I was expecting the band’s catalog of Americana-tinted Springsteen/Dylan-inspired songs to make for a more delicate show. What unfolded on stage was a satisfyingly LOUD delivery and commanding presence that pulsed throughout the venue. Songwriter, vocalist, and general talking head of the band, Adam Granduciel, brought power and punch along with the rest of the band.

The setlist included gems from Wagonwheel Blues like “Arms Like Boulders.” Other highlights included tracks from 2011’s Slave Ambient, like the beautiful “Brothers.” The band is known for their richly layered recordings which they brought to life on stage–complete with a brass player! The set was long and comprehensive with songs from all three of the band’s albums. The War on Drugs are known for 6+ minute long songs that, for all their length, hardly seemed to drag or bore.

The material for their third and latest album, Lost in the Dream, came from a high-pressure, grueling recording process where Granduciel coped with loads of personal issues. Songs like “Suffering” highlighted the progression the band has made and the slowness of putting your heart and soul into a new album. There is no question that Lost in the Dream is the best of the band’s releases so far.

Often associated in the same breath, both The War on Drugs and Kurt Vile are the current staples of the Philadelphia indie rock scene. Granduciel has been clear about one thing: there has not been any bad blood between himself and former bandmate, Kurt Vile. The two seemed to have had an amicable split after Granduciel toured with Vile as a part of Kurt Vile and the Violators. Bursting at the end of the band’s set was an illustrious cover of John Lennon’s “Mind Games.” I couldn’t think of any other appropriate ex-Beatles solo song more fitting of the little band from Philadelphia that could.

However, where The War on Drugs faltered was giving the audience too much of a good thing. The encore and a small percentage of the set could have been trimmed to highlight the best of the band’s tracks. You could feel some of the audience’s captivation seep away three songs into the encore. While the band embodied an ease and cool similar to Garduciel’s former band, Garduciel is certainly aware of the band’s status. Two sold out nights at the Indy and an increasingly well-received third album plus association with Kurt Vile could be a recipe for small-town ego gone sour. But Granduciel took it all in stride last night. A former Oakland resident, he was joyful and excited to be on stage in San Francisco–a humbling experience for both audience and artist.