The War on Drugs. Bluebird Theater. 03.26.14

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Foreigner’s “Feels Like the First Time” was all too appropriate as a sudden darkness engulfed the capacity crowd at Bluebird Theater. It was the fifth time I’d seen Adam Granduciel and his War on Drugs, but as the band took the stage in a hazy green glow, it really did feel like the first time. Granduciel (like former bandmate Kurt Vile) has always been one of those musicians that I have had a lot of respect for, but not a lot of enthusiasm for. Slave Ambient was a damn fine album, but Lost in the Dream was a game changer for me. The 10 tracks on that album represented something more than just background music — they spoke to me on a personal level in a way that few songs do. It’s too bad that great art is so often the result of great pain, but Granduciel should find solace in the fact that all of his depression and paranoia manifested itself into the best album of his career.

As much as I love (and kinda miss) going to shows at the Bluebird Theater, the sound sometimes leaves much to be desired, but although the perfectionist in Granduciel might have found cracks in every corner last night, it sounded spot-on from the middle of the venue. His voice was always well balanced in the mix, allowing those heartbroke words to ride smooth over the waves of guitar. No matter how many times you listen to the albums, there is no way to discern how many elements are competing for your attention until you see the songs performed live. Even backed by a 4-piece band, Granduciel still required a prerecorded mix to augment what was happening onstage. With so many moving parts, it must have been hard to get everything ‘perfect’, especially when they showed up late due to their van being ran off the road (and down a 25 ft. embankment) by a tracker trailer. This event can probably be blamed for Granduciel’s agitation. At one point, after “I Was There”, he started yelling — “this is a fucking mess!” — before lugging his own replacement amp out for “Red Eyes”. Like I said before, everything sounded great from where I was standing. But then again, I wasn’t on that stage. I also had a beer in my hand and hadn’t almost gotten killed on my way to the show…so our perspectives were quite different.

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It’s amazing we are here

“Suffering” seemed to provide the band with a bit of emotional catharsis. After that highlight from the new album, they put the near-death experience behind them with a cover of Bill Fey’s “I Hear You Calling”. In a moment of regret for blowing up on his band and the sound crew, Granduciel lit up a joint and respectfully introduced his band. He then admitted that he was facing a Stage 3 meltdown — “not a Stage 6, it’s not a complete emotional breakdown, but it’s close“. From there on out, every sad and lonely folk track was balanced with a psychedelic rocker such as “Baby Missiles” (a personal favorite from Slave Ambient). It was fun to watch the different reactions from the crowd during the second half of the set — the couples in manic dance mode were oblivious to those slowly swaying with their own shadows — all while Granduciel was on the floor, shredding his guitar like it was the cause of all his torment.

There was quite a bit of downtime between each song, allowing for the tuning and changing out of equipment, and while the silence could have been a buzzkill, it almost worked in the band’s favor. Each song became it’s own solitary performance — making each one special in its own way. And there were a lot of songs! 19 to be exact. For a group of guys who had obviously had a rough day, it was pretty incredible to see them perform for well over 2 hours. It might have been the most epic performance I have ever seen at the Bluebird Theater.

The War on Drugs had a bad day yesterday. Adam Granduciel has had a bad couple years. So I feel almost guilty for having enjoyed myself so much last night. Almost. The fact that they played for so long makes me assume that they enjoyed themselves as well. It might have been that they just didn’t want to leave the stage and deal with whatever came next, and if that’s the case, I wish them the best of luck with wherever the road takes them as they head out of Colorado. I wish them safe travels and I hope Granduciel’s demons go into hiding and leave him with some peace…at least until it’s time to write the next album.

Setlist:
In Reverse
Under the Pressure
I Was There
Eyes To The Wind
Red Eyes
Suffering
I Hear You Calling (Bill Fay)
Burning
Baby Missiles
Lost in the Dream
Come To The City
Brothers
An Ocean in Between Waves
Disappearing
Black Water Falls

Arms like Boulders
Mind Games (John Lennon)
Comin’ Through
Best Night

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Setlist