Describing the atmosphere during a live performance by The War on Drugs is complicated. The mood certainly isn’t celebratory, but it’s far from gloomy. In reality, the entire journey is likely to take you through a wide range of emotions, but somehow they all seem to lead to a place of individual contemplation.
This shouldn’t come as any surprise – last year’s breakthrough, Lost in the Dream, is a multilayered log of musings from Adam Granduciel. A painful, anxiety fueled affair, Lost in the Dream succeeded by translating those frustrations into something smooth and thoughtful; a new indie rock high water mark. Seeing those cuts performed live is somewhat akin to spying on a private conversation.
Even though 2011’s Slave Ambient was highly lauded in its own right, the universal praise of Lost in the Dream catapulted Granduciel and company to new heights. Now, over a year after its release, an Indianapolis crowd packs into The Vogue to see what the fuss is all about. It’s hard to imagine anyone leaving disappointed.
Beginning their set with old, lesser-known tracks is ingenious on the part of Granduciel. The War on Drugs are much less concerned with bringing the house down than they are with reflecting a disposition of honesty with a dash of indifference. It’s six songs into the set before the band strikes into the masterful “An Ocean in Between the Waves”.
It’s a move that builds tension and requires patience of all parties in attendance. When Granduciel steps away from the mic and begins noodling through the spacey interludes of “Ocean”, the crowd feels the urge to move for the first time. It won’t be the last. The best moments of the evening are reserved for those long, shoegazing passages that make you sway. The War on Drugs excel by telling a story even when Granduciel isn’t uttering a word.
Whether Jon Natchez is complimenting moments with his saxophone skills or Charlie Hall is marking a change of tempo from behind the kit, it’s clear that the members on stage have a knack for playing off one another. It’s one thing to listen to Lost in the Dream privately in a room with your headphones on, it’s a wonderful other to experience the fluidity of the band’s movements when the sound surrounds everyone in the room.
There’s no banter and the set moves quickly, even with songs stretching to seven or eight minutes in length. When the band closes with Lost in the Dream opener “Under Pressure” followed by “In Reverse”, the choice is beautiful and poetic in more ways than one. The crowd never comes close to reaching a fever pitch, but it’s clear that everyone is very much in the moment.
If we’re lucky, these sold out crowds won’t lose interest in the years it takes Granduciel to follow up on his masterpiece. Last go around, he grew weary and depressed from months on the road. This time, the 36-year-old indie rock icon seems comfortable and uninterested in expectation. Whatever the case may be, there’s few that can rival his songwriting capabilities – watching him play live just adds to an already incredible experience.
by Kiel Hauck
Kiel Hauck is the editor in chief at It’s All Dead. Over the past decade, he has been a contributor for multiple online and print publications and was most recently an editor at PopMatters. Kiel currently resides in Indianapolis, IN with his wife and their imaginary pet, Hand Dog. You can follow him on Twitter.