Had you asked after forty five minutes of this The War on Drugs performance, I would have been telling you that it was up there with the best gigs that I’d been to this year. However with a setlist that caused the energy in the venue to flatline as it went on doesn’t mean that the crowd at The Ritz didn’t still get to see something pretty impressive.
The band have had a bit of a strange year in terms of their reputation over this last eight months. When Lost in the Dream was released back in March you would have been hard pressed to find many people within music saying negative things about the group. Since this whole stupid Mark Kozelek (Sun Kil Moon) ‘feud’ that took place a couple of months back though it seems to be the cool thing to not like The War on Drugs and disparaging remarks are a lot more easily found now. Either way, I neither wanted to see the band ‘suck the cock’ of Mark Kozelek nor was I of the impression that they had released the best record this year.
Having seen Adam Granduciel et al, a couple of times over the summer at Primavera Sound and Green Man, I was interested to see how they’d do headlining their own show. Support came from Steve Gunn, an act that I’d read a lot of good things about and so was excited to see perform. It might be that he’s better on record however because live there wasn’t much to him. The songs were long and repetitive and there didn’t seem to be many in the venue who’s attention he grabbed.
The six piece from Philadelphia made their way to the stage just after 9pm and kicked things off with a fantastic rendition of ‘Burning’. ‘Arms Like Boulders’ introduced an awesome sounding saxophone and ‘Under the Pressure’ rounded off the incredibly impressive opening few tracks by the band. For the next few tracks the setlist had a decent mix of The War on Drugs slower songs and more popular ones too. Adam Granduciel got to show off his great guitar playing skills a number of times as well, energetically killing some big solos in songs with the most impressive coming during ‘In Reverse’.
Granduciel’s vocals remained superb throughout the set and the sound the band was generating was always crisp. There was a bit of lull toward the end of the set however and the crowd who had been previously jumping around and singing aloud had come to standstill. The highlight of the set, ‘Burning’ was quick to fix that though and ‘Eyes to the Wind’ made for a great set closer, receiving a huge amount of applause as the band left the stage. With that, The War on Drugs returned for the inevitable encore. An encore so un-interesting that it may have actually fared better had the band not made a re-appearance having just won the crowd back over.
When The War on Drugs were good, they were fantastic. It seems a shame then that the band were a little too eager to please when it came to the setlist. A more even set, similar to what they did at Green Man, would have seen the slower songs eased in between some of the more popular and would have avoided the lull that came at the back end of the show. Still, Adam Granduciel is a hugely talented guy and the band are entirely worth checking out when they’re back at the Albert Hall in February.