LIVE: The War On Drugs @ O2 Arena, London

Snatching the baton from legacy artists to revitalise sincere stadium rock, The War On Drugs' show at London's O2 Arena ensured that we all left feeling like (air) guitar heroes.
Posted: 14 April 2022 Words: Tom Curtis-Horsfall

Adam Granduciel has felt the pressure of emulating The War On Drugs’ magnum opus Lost In A Dream with their two albums since, after the big label move that followed suit and the magnified mainstream attention that comes with it. But if his decision to reclaim 80s-tinged stadium rock from the doldrums of social acceptability needed justifying, then the Philadelphians’ triumphant show at London’s O2 Arena did exactly that. 

Fifth album I Don’t Live Here Anymore met an abundance of critical acclaim last year. It hit the sweet spot between unabashed anthemic rock ‘n’ roll and considered introspection, and will likely see Granduciel pick up another Grammy Award - even though it did lean towards Bryan Adams-esque balladry a bit too much for some tastes. But importantly, the album signalled his detachment from the clinical depression that fuelled his songwriting right up until their breakthrough album. Opening up their arena show with ‘Old Skin’ was no doubt loaded with this sentiment as much as it is a righteous foot-stomper. 

As his rock repertoire builds, old favourites remain rooted in the band’s setlists; the sea of denim jackets and scruffy haircuts that made up the majority of the 20,000 strong crowd undulated to ‘Ocean Between The Waves’, those same eyes were transfixed on Granduciel and the giant screens either side of the stage as he shredded to ‘Red Eyes’.

The reason The War On Drugs are adored by a varied demographic - young and old, indie aficionados and those that’d die on their sword in the name of dad rock - is likely this: they’re doing their utmost to ensure that fat, motorik drum beats and emotive lead guitar noodling you can pump your fists and slap your knees to aren’t heading towards extinction. 

Newer tunes like ‘Harmonia’s Dream’, ‘Victim’, and ‘I Don’t Live Here Anymore’ prove their stadium credentials, with softer numbers ‘Living Proof’ and ‘Occasional Rain’ sporadically relieving the tension, sublime in their simplicity and intriguing in their intricacies. Though crowd interaction is scant - with the exception of introducing Slave Ambient’s 'Come To The City’ where Granduciel reminisces about the band’s “sweaty Corsica Studios” show a decade earlier - the focus remained firmly on encouraging the audience to air guitar in sync.

Inspired in large by his heroes like Neil Young (their set ended with a cover of ‘Like A Hurricane’) and Bruce Springsteen (Granduciel even named his firstborn son after ‘The Boss’), The War On Drugs have now snatched the baton from legacy artists to revitalise sincere stadium rock, ensuring that our ears were ringing, we were all guitar heroes, and that heartland rock remains close to our hearts.

To hear more from The War On Drugs, click here.

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