Album Review: The War On Drugs – LIVE DRUGS

The War On Drugs Live Drugs artwork

‘Over 40 hard drives of recorded shows’ have gone into The War On Drugs’ first live album.

Whether you gamble or not, you have to admit that the post-millennial odds of acts like Tame Impala and The War On Drugs becoming some of the planet’s most successful would’ve been pretty long.

Yet here we are, TI’s Kevin Parker the global king of the sad banger, and whilst Adam Granduciel’s had to take his share of critical lumps – Direr Straits, Springsteen lite etc – the last word has unquestionably been his.

We’re in a momentous era however where the live album (the clue being in the LIVE DRUGS title) is something of a double conceit, moments ripped from an event that you probably weren’t at and, for the latter part of the year, something most could only experience remotely on a screen.

Granduciel neatly side-steps this though by relying not on one performance but many, the ten tracks here offered up from different shows stored amongst the 40 hard drives that make up a personal chronicle across continents and years.

Selected with the help of co-producer, guitar tech, stage manager and friend Dominic East, the flow is designed to mirror a typical setlist as opposed to throwing together a greatest hits by the back door.

Thus, the inclusion of Buenos Aires Beach reaches back to 2008’s debut album Wagonwheel Blues, while a typically sanguine cover version of Warren Zevon’s Accidentally Like A Martyr has found itself included in shows that have followed the release of A Deeper Understanding.

Sometimes rugged, sometimes intimate, the band’s music has increasingly become a thrill to get enveloped in, whether at a show or alone. Opener An Ocean Between The Waves channels all of its apparent strands – freewheeling 80’s AOR, the E Street Band, Tom Petty, country rock – and shakes them out in a design struck through with romanticism and a view of an American dream which offers succour.

On Pain this yearning is grandiose, a drive across hundreds of miles of rolling countryside in the listener’s own company, reconciliation with what’s wrong in the mysterious guise of what feels right.

One of the tricks to situating listeners in live performances is getting the audience’s role in balance; too much and the songs become secondary, too little and you may as well be in a studio. LIVE DRUGS is a highly gratifying exercise though in sympathetic rendering. The panorama opens out on Thinking Of A Place, a sprawl of half realised visions and meandering organ, everyone locked into a muscular guitar solo that swims with emotion and out-of-body unconsciousness.

A private man, it’s hard to consider Granduciel as someone who would perceive his music as epic. Yet the almost endless intro to Under The Pressure, waves mounting on winds, is precisely that, a gateway to a song that seems perpetual.

For the closing half of this less permeable version the awestruck crowd are determined to chant along to the king-making guitar riff, a show of mass devotion that moves everyone closer to its essence, as if on a pilgrimage.

Kings of this not-so-wild frontier like him and Kevin Parker would be the first to argue they don’t deserve that, inheriting an earth in which they’ve unwittingly made an escapist sanctuary for millions.

LIVE DRUGS makes you wish you could be there, which in a time where you want to be everywhere but can’t, is a sure fire wonder.


Andy Peterson

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