The War on Drugs extend and explore their epic, soaring songs for an audience in the palm of their hand.
Opening for The War On Drugs
at London's O2, during their sole UK tour date of 2018 is Slowdive
. With a more indie-tinged, shoegaze sound than the headliners, Slowdive nonetheless shares a similarity in their focus upon music that builds up and is drawn out.
songs, drenched in reverb and delay, consist of sparse vocal work that is nonetheless beautiful it arrives and extended instrumental musings upon musical passages and ideas. The five band members blast their way through a set of ten songs: some rip-roaring explorations of the heights they can reach, while others are devastating deliberations upon softness and length and quiet – as quiet as you can get in the O2 with its booming sound, at least. Set-closer 'Golden Hair', a Syd Barrett cover, is an example of both, and a highlight of the performance. Soft, captivating vocals from Rachel Goswell float along over the top of slow, burbling guitars and drums in an atmospheric track that could have soundtracked any number of films. As the vocals finish Goswell leaves the stage, the attention now solely upon those playing the music, and the sound expands, pushing out and up to the very farthest reaches of the room.
With the arrival of The War On Drugs
to the stage, there is little awareness of what was to come. It's an ambling arrival, one not so much imbued with ego and grandiosity – both very possible and understandable mindsets for someone headlining The O2 – but rather with a desire to get to their respective instruments and play. And by fuck, they played. Where Slowdive is all about lingering and musing upon a musical idea or theme, The War On Drugs take moments in their songs and stretch them out, imbuing them with incredible amounts of tension and release. Songs get three our four different applause breaks, stopping and starting up again, resuming with renewed energy and vigour. For The War On Drugs, the task is to take their songs and extract as much from them as they can, holding on to notes and bars, thrashing their way through constant, droning repetition, they build constantly and seemingly never-end. It is almost unbearable, but in the best possible way, the audience’s ache for resolution constant and echoed by the band themselves. At one point, with the drums pounding away ceaselessly, the drummer, Charlie Hall, is seen to be screaming to let out the release well in advance of the musical resolution.
The attention of the crowd is largely focused upon vocalist and guitarist Adam Granduciel. Over the course of the show, swapping constantly between guitar after gorgeous guitar, his hair slicks itself to his head from sweat and his clothes seem to hang from him, the very fabric exhausted and spent. Over the course of 12 songs and three encore tracks, Granduciel holds the audience captivated without needing to say much more than the occasional thank you. His left-hand dances along and spirals around the fretboard, his right hand pounding away at the strings. For certain tracks, he breaks out the harmonica for an even bluesier touch to an already rock-fuelled performance.
There's a sense of something important happening onstage throughout in the performance. Perhaps it's a result of the show being their only performance in the UK this year or the intensity of the performances. At the end of it all, Granduciel starts to walk offstage with the rest of the band
, glances at his guitar, and chucks it over his shoulder, a performance well and truly delivered to an audience left standing bewildered.
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