My housemate and I were sent a blessing from the gods on Thursday when we were offered two tickets to see American Alt-Rock band The War on Drugs. Whilst I had spent the summer listening to their latest album Lost in The Dream on repeat, my housemate had never heard of them. I was determined to make her love them. I succeeded.
We got to the O2, it was busy, the kind of busy where you need to tactically use your elbows if you want to get anything done. We’d missed the support act, and arrived about 20 minutes before the main event. There was a tangible sense of excitement, every time a crew member came onstage to check a mic or an amp there would be a swell of movement in the crowd – was it time? I was surprised at how busy it was, as the few people I’d mentioned it to beforehand had never actually heard of The War on Drugs. The average age was actually about 45, which explains that one.
At 9:12 (two minutes late, tut tut) the band sauntered onstage. I immediately noticed that the lead singer and I shared an affinity for velour shirts, and we had the same haircut – rock and roll. A few kind words to the audience then the band launched into their set. They opened with Burning, an 80s rock-esque number with obvious and major Bruce Springsteen influences. The opening riff is reminiscent of Springsteen’s Dancing in the Dark (I recommend watching the video, young Courtney Cox *spontaneously* dancing with Bruce), even the set up on stage was reminiscent of the E-Street band. Burning is a great example of the band’s overall sound. The combination of synths, random saxophones and horns, keyboards and quivering guitars creates a beautifully nostalgic sound. The influence of Springsteen, Dire Straits, Tom Petty and even a bit of Fleetwood Mac is obvious throughout the album and translated well into a live setting.
The set comprised mainly of songs from the most recent album, including personal favourites An Ocean In Between the Waves and Eyes to The Wind. A particular highlight was a melodic, slowed down, quasi-psychedelic rendition of Buenos Aires Beach. They closed the set, encore and all, with Suffering, one of the longest and slowest tracks on the album. It was a fantastic ending track; the nature of the song seems to capture to overall theme of isolation and loneliness that permeates the whole album. From a live perspective, it brought the set to a fitting close.
Although definitely on the mellower end of the spectrum, The War on Drugs managed to capture the audience’s full attention from the moment they walked on stage. Despite saying very little in between songs, the music itself was so engaging that watching them live was a fully immersive experience.
My one, ONE, criticism would be that the audience, whilst obviously enthralled, were static. There wasn’t a huge amount of movement, even at the very front of the crowd. You need at least some gentle swaying to distract you from the fact that you’re standing on your feet for 2 hours surrounded by 50 year old men erratically bobbing their heads and nursing pints of cider.
Despite this, it was a pretty tubular night. The War on Drugs were on top form and, despite the motionless crowd, the atmosphere was fantastic. Now everyone go listen, appreciate and love…3,2,1 go!