Photos By Ian Doreian
Considering the extremes The War on Drugs bandleader Adam Granduciel went through to record Lost in the Dream, the ease of their live performance may come as a surprise. He is, if anything, a man looking not just to fix what’s broken, but to get things to a point where they can never be broken again. But live, the band was curiously at ease, playing dad rock to fans that were not yet dads.
The band has come a long, strange way since its debut LP Wagonwheel Blues dropped in 2008. A natural country-rock shifted into the hazier fog of Slave Ambient and now finds itself standing in the middle of 2014’s excellent Lost in the Dream where the music sounds, unsurprisingly, like the zoned-out rock of an 80s road trip radio station.
Don’t forget that Granduciel was busy getting beat up by the very recording process he subjected himself to before heading out on tour. After all, there’s a reason the new The War on Drugs album sounds so on point. The taxing, tedious twelve months recording Lost in the Dream were spent turning around to face the conflicts he had already gone through. From the dissolve of a long-term relationship to the loss of band member Kurt Vile, Granduciel spent the year constantly re-recording and editing tracks, forced to pick through his memories like a game of Operation until there was nothing left but spare muscle strands still attached to the bone. The result is an album that lends itself to meticulously timed fade-ins and retro vocals like Tom Petty or Bruce Springsteen.
Now that he’s wrestled about for a year with the recorded material, Granduciel seems free of his past worries when he performs the material live. An impressive two hour set showed they were less about frills—the closest they got to dressing up was the drummer’s plaid button down having a polka dot collar—than staying in the moment, however long that moment seemed to go on for.
Opening with new track “Under the Pressure” followed by “Baby Missiles” and “I Was There” off of Slave Ambient was a smart decision – in mere minutes, they had won over the half-passive Paradise crowd. Several hardcore music junkies were in the audience, but most people gathered around the stage were Bostonians who listened to the album after hearing its praise online or having it shoved in their hands while sharing a joint with a co-worker three weeks ago.
Stranger than their passiveness for recorded-vs-live sound accuracy was the crowd’s dancing. Every woman within vision was rolling her neck in semi-circles or fiercely air drumming (less for accuracy and more for dramatics). No one was dancing to an actual beat, but they were so innerly enthralled that it didn’t matter. The War on Drugs provided the sound that gave them reason to close their eyes and revisit whatever memory had them completely caught up in it all. Considering Granduciel did his own reminiscing, it felt appropriate.
“It feels good to be back on the end of the B line,” he said. “Anyone buy a book from the Boston College bookstore between 1996 and 1998? I put that sticker on.”
Between drummer Patrick Berkery popping off his seat, mid-gallop, and bassist David Hartley playing the majority of his parts on the top third of his bass neck without looking strained, the whole performance felt natural. There was no starting point or decisive end to their songs when played live. Maybe that’s it. They aren’t performed — they’re played. There’s no fancy over the top-ness. Each instrument is an extension of their limbs and they let the music roll out as it pleased.
The night began with applaudable sets from Sore Eros and White Laces—the latter of which looked like mall representatives, one member standing guard for LL Bean, J. Crew, Aeropostale, and American Eagle—and closed with a drawn-back darkness from The War on Drugs.
Their second to last song before the encore, “Come to the City,” cleared the stage of everyone except Granduciel, guitarist Robbie Bennett, and a touring keyboardist. Shadows crept up, Granduciel blew some single harmonic notes out, and a dark, lonely western wave came over the room. It was ten minutes until midnight and most people’s feet hurt from standing for so long, but hopes of hearing more off the new record kept most of them there. It may have been a struggle to create, but The War on Drugs relentlessness to create a solid album paid off by translating into just as successful of a live show, much to Granduciel’s assumed relief.