Yesterday, The War on Drugs played The Independent for the first of two sold-out San Francisco shows. The Philadelphia-based band has been touring for the past few weeks promoting their new album, Lost in The Dream, with supporting act, White Laces, who opened the show with their indie-rock-meets-post-rock sound. The Virginia-based quartet set an energetic, yet mellow tone that perfectly complemented the headlining band.
Known for a meticulously layered, visual sound, The War on Drugs’ accuracy in the recording process was carried through in their live performance. Singer-songwriter Adam Granduciel first appeared on stage to set up a variety of pedals. Granuciel’s concentration and frustration as he relayed instructions and adjusted elements of the rig demonstrated the precision necessary to create The War on Drugs’ sweeping, yet controlled sound in a live setting.
Granuciel started the set off, not with an introduction, but with the rhythmic strumming of a single-note on his Gibson guitar. The captivating and suspenseful moment was slowly transformed with the press of a few pedals, as he began looping and compressing the musical pattern that melts into what was recognizable as “Under The Pressure,” the first song on their latest album. Other members slowly began to join in, adding texture masterfully. Despite a brassy saxophone and synth presence, the guitar and vocals managed to take precedence throughout their performance. The other instruments created a wash of sound that allowed the vocals to take on an expansive quality, and the guitar riffs added a strong, yet ephemeral element through their fading, back-and-forth presence. Sadly, the saxophone/flugelhorn player remained in the background, both physically and audibly, but his melodies added diversity to the blend.
Midway through the set the mood picked up with Charlie Hall’s fast-paced drumming, which is featured in the new-wave-dance vibes of the song “Baby Missles” from Slave Ambient, and a popular track from their new album, “Red Eyes.” Apart from Grandiciel’s mention of a guest-musician’s birthday (the band featured a pedal steel guitar player midway through the set) and him asking if “anyone is from Berkeley” and that “he used to live around “60th and Telegraph,” the band said little.
They concluded the set, as they do their new album, with the introspective ballad “In Reverse.” The song started off slowly, with atmospheric echoes and sustained melodies, commanding the same attention Granduciel attained at the beginning of the night. The vocals broke through, followed by a gradual build that culminated the night on a more energetic point.
As the band was about to remove their instruments, Granduciel quipped, “Why would we put away our instruments and leave the stage just to come back on?” Anticipating the encore from the full-house, they began playing a few more songs without an explicit invite.
The crowd’s constant focus defined the mood of the night; the energy never surpassed the contained movements of head-bobbing and slight swaying, but the crowd was also never lulled to boredom. Like Lost in the Dream‘s expansive yet constrained sound, the energy at The Independent was in a state of suspension, immersed in the music.
article and photos by Penelope Leggett