It’s been almost three years since the Philadelphia band called The War On Drugs released a great record called Wagonwheel Blues and performed at Schubas. Since then, one musician from the band, Kurt Vile, has attracted some acclaim of his own (and he has more or less left The War On Drugs). Now, there’s finally a second album by The War On Drugs, Slave Ambient. And the band was back at Schubas Friday night (Aug. 26).
It was a four-piece band this time, compared to the stripped-down three-man lineup that played here in 2008. The sounder was fuller, sometimes positively dense. Led by singer-songwriter-guitarist Adam Granduciel, The War On Drugs essentially plays a sort of folk rock, but on the new album, it has a trippy, slightly psychedelic air wafting through it, as the dreamy songs run into one another. Live, that sound was cranked up, and Granduciel let himself get lost in reverb-drenched guitar solos. The new record’s nice, but the band hasn’t topped its excellent 2008 song “Arms Like Boulders,” which was a highlight of the set.
The first band of the night was Tammar from Bloomington, Indiana, who were also bathed in reverb, with barely decipherable vocals echoing inside the rhythms. The middle act on the lineup was Caveman, a Brooklyn band getting some attention lately. From what I heard, the band’s usual drummer was missing, but with two musicians banging the drums, there was certainly no lack of rhythm.
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.