Concert Review: The War on Drugs at The Casbah

Concert Review: The War on Drugs at The Casbah

Philadelphia indie rock band fills small venue with beautifully sweeping ’80s sound.

CONCERT_warondrugs1

Location: The Casbah
Concert Date: April 6
Opening Acts: White Laces

Last Sunday night, the Casbah, a gritty club on the corner of Kettner and Laurel in Downtown San Diego, was brought to life by an unassuming quintet from Philadelphia. Still relatively unknown outside of the indie-rock scene, The War on Drugs recently released their third LP, “Lost in the Dream.” With sweeping New Wave-esque synthesizers adorning a solid Americana rock ‘n’ roll sound, the band evokes contemporary acts like Arcade Fire and Beach House, as well as the heartland rock of ‘80s, such as Bruce Springsteen and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. Traversing the musical landscape while drawing inspiration from various genres and eras, the latest album has a surprisingly cohesive sound — it is rich and melodic. (The Wall of Sound movement comes to mind, particularly George Harrison’s Phil Spector-produced “All Things Must Pass.”)

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Opening act White Laces, from Virginia, played surf rock-tinged tunes with stuttering drums and touches of synthesizers as a crowd gathered outside the Casbah. Adam Granduciel, frontman of The War on Drugs and former Kurt Vile collaborator, casually chatted with his bandmates and fans outside, sipping IPAs beneath the clear night sky. Although a small venue, the Casbah has a nice outdoor area with concert posters on the walls and lights hanging from the trees.

The War on Drugs began their set with album opener “Under the Pressure.” While the recorded track is nine minutes long, the live version worked well despite its length. As each minute passed, more layers were added to the song — piano chords, rhythmic drums — and the cohesiveness of the band became evident. Despite the intricate arrangement of the song, each musician expertly played their part while complementing each other. The entire show, which lasted about two hours, felt like an extended jam session. (At certain parts, drummer Charlie Hall was practically dancing in his seat as he played.) It was mesmerizing to watch a group of musicians blend so well together — hence the Wall of Sound evocation.

In tandem with the lush instrumentals were Granduciel’s echoing vocals, heavy with both reverb and melancholy, bouncing off the walls of the small, crowded venue. In an interview with Grantland, Granduciel explained that he wanted the new album to reflect the live sound he had achieved while touring for the previous album, 2011’s “Slave Ambient.” He assembled “Lost in the Dream” meticulously, combining sounds and obsessively re-arranging tracks for months, as though he were assembling a musical puzzle.

“I wanted to do something that showcased what the band had become without necessarily giving up control of the recording,” he clarified.

The highlight of the show was “Red Eyes,” the first single from the new album. A cathartic song, it bursts at the seams during the verses with cascading synthesizers and rapid drum beats just waiting to explode into the chorus. However, the show was not all fast-paced energy, as the band interwove some of the slower tracks from the new album, such as “Suffering” and “Disappearing” into the set list.

The War on Drugs delivered a sound which at first seemed too grand for a small venue like the Casbah. The limit to the space they can sonically fill seems endless. It’s surprising they weren’t booked for Coachella or Outside Lands. Yet Granduciel and his compadres managed to create an intimacy amidst the musical whirlwind that is “Lost in the Dream.”

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