It’s The War on Drugs’ second and final performance at Brixtons 02 Academy on a Monday night. The Brixton 02 is freezing cold and around me, seated upstairs, audience members are swathed in coats and gloves (O2, please take note). After an impressive set by New York trio Amen Dunes, The War on Drugs take their place on the stage, Adam Granduciel’s personal front-of-stage territory graced by a Turkish rug. With no messing about, the band launch into Under the Pressure from Lost in the Dream, the band’s lauded album from 2014, a body of music borne from a dark period for Granduciel, a failed relationship, a disconnect from life. To be fair, contentment with your lot in life never did produce the best tunes. Performed live, all the elements that distinguish the track on the studio version all shine through, the lush, rich sound, the pulsing guitars, with Granduciel’s languid vocals rising above the noise of the guitars, at other times his lyrics unintelligible, sliding down into the mix. He shares with Kurt Vile that distinctive, swoopy Dylanesque intonation which can sound anguished, and at other times triumphant.
Baby Missiles follows and Granduciel makes a dedication to The Windmill in Brixton, a place he’s played before three times – how times change now the band are filling Brixton Academy twice over. He seems upbeat, and later thanks us all for coming out on a Monday night, but keeps some distance between himself (and his band) and the audience. Arms like Boulders from 2008 Wagonwheel Blues introduces an earlier more gentle Dylan-influenced number, before heading back to Lost in the Dream with Burning. This is one of the numbers with War on Drugs’ trademark driving beat, insistent like a heartbeat, anchoring the base of the song, allowing the upper layers to float free and take their own course. It also has a Dire Straits The Bug feel.
Eyes to the Wind sounds hauntingly beautiful with the slide guitar, the dreamy vocals, building till the piano crescendo. And as the show continues to get into its stride, the mesmerising quality of the band’s work exerts its magic. It seems to reach out and pull you under, submerging you to the point where you find you just float off into your own head and submit to the song’s power, never wanting it to end. The ending to An Ocean in between the Waves always makes me smile, the way it draws you in with an elongated instrumental, then screeches to a halt with a sound akin to a needle dragged across the record.
The stage set is a graduated set of panels forming half of a kind of stone circle, the backdrop for a series of playful lighting effects of different colours. Mid way through the set, shards of powerful white light beam out across the auditorium, stealing the limelight from Granduciel and his band.
The set continues to ricochet between earlier numbers and those from that last album. For the encore we are treated to three numbers, the first is the title track itself, a low-key Lost in the Dream, and closes with It’s Your Destiny.
The set included most of Lost in the Dream, and credit goes to Granduciel’s band who played superbly. I am, perhaps rather unfairly, crossing my fingers we don’t have to see War on Drugs at an even bigger venue next time they tour the UK.
THE SMALL PRINT
WHO: The War on Drugs, support: Amen Dunes
WHEN: March 2, 2015
WHERE: 02 Brixton, London
TICKETS: £22 approx