Live Review: The War On Drugs, Nottingham Rock City, 1st March 2015

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This cult band have recently emerged from the woodwork and into the spotlight. Their latest release ‘Lost in a Dream’ was the most critically acclaimed album of 2014 and has been chosen as album of the year by numerous publications. The more you listen to it the more the music grows on you. Their brand of ethereal Americana tugs at your heart and it has led to comparisons with Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen. I made my way to their gig in Nottingham, braving illness and torrential rain, to witness the magic first hand.

I was far from being the first one in but my lucky star must have finally come out to shine as there was plenty of space right at the very front. I had my first taste of an up close and personal view when the opening act Amen Dunes came on stage. I got the impression that they were new to touring and playing venues like Nottingham. At times they seemed uncomfortable and out of sync. Maybe nerves got the better of them, maybe it was technical trouble but there was certainly something amiss. By their last song however things seemed to have fallen into place and their potential shone through. It’s early days yet, they definitely need more time on the road and in the studio, but they have a shot at making it big.

Once the roadies had arranged the vast array of effects pedals, The War On Drugs emerged, kicking things off with the slow build of ‘Under The Pressure’. I’ve never known a band to be so different live than on the album. The studio versions have an ample dose of synths with occasional elegant offerings of saxophone. While there was still plenty of that around, the best example being the gorgeous ‘Eyes To The Wind’, for the most part it was a whole lot heavier and feedback fuelled. I had to brace myself when I saw frontman Adam Granduciel reaching for certain pedals. One moment the music was mellow and atmospheric and the next it was exploding out of the amps and clawing at the crowd. The lighting certainly added to the experience, it was simple yet effective.

They played some of their earlier songs like ‘Baby Missiles’ and ‘Arms Like Boulders’, but the setlist was mainly comprised of their newer material such as the two highlights of the night: ‘An Ocean In Between The Waves’ and ‘Red Eyes’. Both perfectly summed up the light and shade at work and built up from a sweet euphonic intro into an ear-splitting intensity that showed what a great guitarist Adam Granduciel is. When the night was over my ears were ringing and my mind buzzing. They’ve been compared to Dylan, Springsteen, Dire Straits, Fleetwood Mac and Tom Petty. I finally figured it out though; they sound like The War On Drugs, and that is just as big a compliment.

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