Try selling the idea of The War On Drugs to a Martian and they may hop in their flying saucer and ditch this lousy planet. “Ok hear me out, my alien friend. Two-chord riffs and noodly guitar solos played by a dude who can’t really sing and looks like a Status Quo roadie. Oh and the songs are all really long and sound more or less the same.”
And yet here we are in Vicar St, where Adam Granduciel and his backing band find themselves upgraded from the Button Factory and duly packing it to the hilt. On last inspection, tickets for Brian O’Driscoll’s farewell jaunt in the RDS this weekend were easier to come by than admission to tonight’s show where beardy musos, guitar nerds and indie chicks are bossing things. Some are actually cheering and pumping the air when the six-piece kick out jams from Wagonwheel Blues (2008) and the superb Slave Ambient (2011), and may have been in Whelan’s a couple of Februaries ago when The War On Drugs snuck in as Philadelphia’s best kept secret and made off with the spoils.
The majority, however, are here because of this year’s Lost In A Dream, which has its place in best-of-2014 lists already secured. It’s not hard to see why. When the group’s spacious, goodtime shoegaze takes full flight and Granduciel’s guitar leads these snaking voyages off into the mystic, a gorgeous suck is distilled in the ears and on the back of the neck. The joyous ‘Under the Pressure’ propels itself towards the sunset on driving rhythms, shimmering guitars and a simple piano refrain. When the ignition is turned on ‘Red Eyes’ or ‘Come To The City’, spines tingle throughout a crowd dreaming of the American open-road, one that leads through places such as Springsteen-field, Wilco-ville and Dylan County.
Yet even when they drop down a gear or two, as on ‘Suffering’, the formula is still visible. The beat, whether programmed or pummelled from the drum riser, remains metronomic. Key changes are scarce. Granduciel is using verses and lyrics as punctuation between displays of reverb-heavy histrionics, usually preceded by a yelping “whoo-hoo”. Had they not announced it, their cover of The Waterboys’ ‘Pagan Place’ could easily have passed for something from their own catalogue.
So, yes, technically it’s kind of like hearing a song played a dozen times with slight variations. But my god, what a song.