Some of The War on Drugs’ finest moments as a band
Alex Rigotti
16:33 20th November 2020

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One of the greatest losses the music community faced during the pandemic was the live show. A place where everyone in the front row knew all the words, just like you. A place which convinced you that you could never listen to music in just your earphones again. The live show transcended anything you could have known and made you understand the unifying power music has – along with thousands of other people. 

Perhaps we're just being nostalgic, but War on Drugs guitarist Adam Granduciel’s scrapbook of performances is a grand love letter to live music. It was smart of him to stitch a patchwork of moments, cherry-picked from over 40 live shows and countless years and countries. Live Drugs exemplifies some of The War on Drugs’ finest moments as a band in their evolution from Americana to neo-psychedelic pleasure. 

Surprisingly, only three songs appear from their latest LP, 2017’s A Deeper Understanding. All of these songs stick closely to the source material – ‘Thinking Of A Place’, for instance, opens with the same staggered swell of synths, and ‘Pain’ with its jangling guitar riff. Whereas the album could sometimes oversaturate the songs with too much reverb, the sound engineering on Live Drugs captures the grandiosity of these songs in a live environment. 

Other songs off previous albums also appear – 'Buenos Aires Beach' from Wagonwheel Blues makes a triumphant return, whilst their buoyant cover of Warren Zevon’s ‘Accidentally Like a Martyr’ is another highlight. You can tell how much fun The Drugs have playing this cover, which makes a big difference from the sombre nature of the original. Clearly, Granduciel has enjoyed the process of reliving these moments in this live album. 

The bulk of the setlist, however, is dedicated to songs off 2014 LP Lost in the Dream. The opener, ‘An Ocean Lost Between The Waves’, takes you through a sonic journey of the band’s best qualities – the looseness of their playing, their unforgettable riffs, the slow burn and eventual cathartic release. Their hit ‘Red Eyes’ is paced similarly, where one can get lost in the saxophones intermingling, or the fantastic wave of guitars at the end where Granduciel screams "I’ll be the one to care – WOO!" and all hell breaks loose.

‘Under The Pressure’, however, was the best example of these qualities, taking up the most space in the album. This arrangement takes nearly three minutes until the familiar jittering hi-hats enter, but it lets you absorb the chemistry that the band has together playing live. This was also where the audience seemed to be the most connected – you can hear their voices singing along with the guitar riff. Even if you’re not a fan of The Drugs, it’s a special reminder of what could have been. 

Instead of the polished, studio-quality versions we usually listen to, Live Drugs gifts us with an excellent album which captures the tiny details that make live recordings great – a perfect balance between the energy of the crowd and the band. It might not be the most innovative or unconventional of live albums, but the intangible spirit of Live Drugs is all too easy to get addicted to. 

Live Drugs is out now. 

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Photo: Press