Hot on the heels of last Sunday’s visit by fellow traveller Kurt Vile to the same venue, Adam Granduciel’s The War on Drugs roll into town. First of all, it has to be said: what a great name for a band. Is that The War on Drugs, or The War on Drugs? The one minute Hollywood pitch for this band would doubtless go: ‘It’s Bob Dylan fronting the Velvet Underground’, a tracing of influences amply evidenced by the drawled lyrical nods to the Little White Wonder’s songbook of ‘thousand miles behind’ to ‘One Too Many Mornings’ and ‘storm that’s been raging’ to ‘The Times They Are A Changing’ and ‘Shelter From The Storm’, from last year’s second album Slave Ambient’s opener ‘Best Night’. The insistent Mo Tucker snare drum doesn’t hurt either in cementing the telescoped summation.
Listen a little more closely, however, and you can hear that Granduciel’s vision encompasses a fair few genres covering rock’s first fifty years, married together in a mad smorgasbord of eclectic pilfering. Last year, writing for Under The Radar, J. Pace coined the term ‘Boss-gaze’ to describe what TWOD were doing, identifying more Bruce than Bob (cue assorted theses on the influence of Dylan on Springsteen, and Springsteen as ‘the new Dylan’) crossed with Jesus and Mary Chain or My Bloody Valentine, most obviously on a song like ‘Baby Missiles’, ‘…raking…’ – and I quote – ‘…the anthems and everyman balladry of Bruce Springsteen over a bed of shoegaze and dream pop stylistics’. They’ve certainly got a startling array of vintage effects pedals on display, coupled with pre-programmed iPad backing tracks to beef up the soundscape.
Me, I hear other things as well. There’s a healthy dose (i.e. not an overdose) of Syd Barrettish lysergic excursions floating somewhere above the stratosphere. Hell, they’ve even been known to cover the Grateful Dead’s ‘Touch of Grey’. Then there’s the Krautrock aspect, especially noticeable on the driving Motorik of ‘Your Love Is Calling My Name’, even if the rhythm is kept by a human rather than a machine. ‘Zimotorik’, as it were. And who can hear ‘Come To The City’ without imagining that it’s a groovy take on U2’s ‘Bad’ (i.e. what ‘Bad’ would sound like without the litany of abstract nouns trotted out by Bono’s soaring vox). Mainly though I keep coming back to the fascination Granduciel clearly has with Blonde on Blonde’s Wild Mercury Sound, which is stamped all over ‘Baby Missiles’, albeit retooled for the digital age.
So, have The War On Drugs transcended their many influences, or are they still suffering the anxiety of influence? No one in the sold out Whelan’s crowd digging encore ‘A Needle in Your Eye #16’, a staple from 2008’s debut Wagonwheel Blues, seems to care, and I suspect TWOD don’t either. Wearing their influences on their sleeves doesn’t make them anxious, but gives them pleasure, and even cadges credibility. It will be interesting to see how they develop, and if they mature but playing shows like tonight’s professional job will not hurt their reputation one bit.
Photo by Colm Kelly courtesy of Ragged Words