One of the albums from early this year that’s really stuck with me is Wagonwheel Blues by the War on Drugs, a band from Philadelphia. I missed the group’s previous show in Chicago and was glad to catch them last night (Dec. 11) at Schubas. On record, the War on Drugs reminds me a little bit of the Waterboys – it’s something about Adam Granduciel’s voice, and the melodies – not to mention some other roots-rock influences, some Dylan, a little Springsteen. Live, the band had more of a Velvet Underground and psychedelic vibe.
It’s clear from the concert that this band is mostly Granduciel with backup players. Last night, they were a trio. Granduciel set up an elaborate chain of effects pedals for his guitars, keyboard, harmonica and police-radio microphone, among other gadgets. The pedals and chords were giving him a little trouble at times (try keeping it simple, dude), but he dealt gamely with all technical difficulties, not really seeming to care very much when the guitars sounded different than planned or squeals of feedback came out. The trio format forced the band to use recorded backing tracks on a few songs, and while that sort of thing bugs me at times, the War on Drugs played against those backing tracks with a lively sense of spontaneity. Despite a few technical problems and an overall sense of being slightly ramshackle, this was an energetic performance of some smart, catchy songs. I’m looking forward to hearing what’s next for the War on Drugs.