The War on Drugs, Alexandra Palace, 14 November 2017

The War on Drugs are a great band, led by singer and ace guitarist Adam Granduciel. They were responsible for one of the best albums of 2014, “Lost in a Dream”. I made it No 2 to Royal Blood in my Top Ten, but I always knew it would be the longer lasting. The songs have real depth and emotion, the guitar soars and weeps. I still play it a lot. That year they were also one of the highlights at Latitude and in March 2015 played Brixton Academy to great acclaim.

In 2017 we have a new album, “A Deeper Understanding”. It’s a more discursive piece than “Lost in a Dream”. The tracks are all pretty long. They meander. But the formula is ultimately not that different to “Lost in a Dream”. And because of that, it suffers in comparison. There are exceptions – on my listening thus far, I really like the song “Pain” and, especially, “Thinking of a Place”, which combines the wistfulness of the track “Lost in a Dream” with some epic guitar, which has echoes of Neil Young – maybe more than ever before.

And so, on to the concert. Ally Pally is a bit of a pain to get to. The nearest tube station, Wood Green, is 20-25 minutes walk away, and up a pretty steep hill. At the top there are some fantastic views of London though. The concert space is cavernous. Good for giving loads of people the opportunity to see the band. Not so good if you don’t want to go near the front and get hemmed in. At my age, I prefer to be on the fringes, especially if that means it’s near the bar. Not that that helped much in this case, as it always looked about five deep at the bar. So it all felt a bit remote, and we had to rely on the screen a lot. Rather like an outdoor gig, without the fresh air.

In these circumstances, it took me a bit of time really to get into the concert. The early tracks were either off the new album, or takes from before “Lost in a Dream”, so less familiar. The drums were pounding and Adam was doing his routine solos. I was feeling just a bit detached. But towards the end, it moved into another gear. First we got “Thinking of a Place”, which was truly magnificent, even better than the recorded version. And then, last song of the main show, “Under the Pressure”. The War on Drugs signature tune, and as awesome as ever. And then the encore included “Eyes to the Wind” and, last up, “Burning”. Two more of the songs that made me fall in love with the music of the War on Drugs. We didn’t get two of my great favourites, “Suffering” (we got “Pain” instead!) and “Lost in a Dream”. But I went away buzzing, after that slow start.

Interesting to see where the band goes next. Do they just carry on doing similar stuff, or try something different? Does Adam want to be the new Neil Young, or Bob Dylan, or Bruce Springsteen, or something altogether more radical? We shall see…


About John S

I'm blogging about the things I love: music, sport, culture, London, with some photos to illustrate aspects of our wonderful city. I’ve written a novel called “The Decision”, a futuristic political thriller, and first of a trilogy. I’m also the author of a book on music since the 1970s called “ I Was There - A Musical Journey” and a volume of poetry about youth, “Growin’ Up - Snapshots/ Fragments”. All available on Amazon and Kindle.
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