It’s The War on Drugs’ sec­ond and final per­for­mance at 02 Acad­e­my Brix­ton. The venue is freez­ing cold and audi­ence mem­bers are swathed in coats and gloves. 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 delin­eat­ed by a Turk­ish rug.

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 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.

War on Drugs 5 Brixton

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 mate­r­i­al 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 War on Drugs 3

WHO: The War on Drugs, sup­port: Amen Dunes
WHEN: March 2, 2015
WHERE: 02 Brix­ton, London

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