Arts & CultureMusicNightlife

Review: The War on Drugs offer an ear-splitting performance

The War on Drugs kickstarted 94.7 FM’s 10th annual December to Remember concert series in calm fashion on Wednesday night.

Taking the stage with no walkout music, the show began much like how a great professor begins class: without notice, and with the expectation that once it begins, everyone will focus. The crowd did just that.

The force of the opening bass drum beat was startling. “Burning,” a track off this year’s album Lost in the Dream had the glass window panes shaking and made my hair feel as if it were being blown around in a wind tunnel.

This was one of the loudest concerts I have ever been to (and I’ve seen The Who), but the noise was not a detractor from the set. Instead, it forced transfixion with an unstated force and elegance. Sure, a few people covered their ears as the band crescendoed to near ear-splitting decibel levels during the encore, but no one was able to look away from the stage.

Frontman Adam Granduciel never ventured further than a few steps away from his microphone stand, but the guitar virtuoso delivered an unexpected onslaught of guitar solos. Surrounded by three effects pedal boards that lit up like the control panel of a NASA spaceship, he was able to unleash his guitar in ways that would not work on the album.

“Under the Pressure,” the opening track on Lost In the Dream, was stretched to nearly ten minutes, and the long, droning fade out in the end was replaced by an eyebrow-raising guitar solo backed by the full six-piece band.

“An Ocean in Between The Waves” was similarly improved upon in concert. While the enhanced guitar solos and extended jams aided the songs overall, others that remained faithful to the album were also great.

With his eyes shut tight, Granduciel sang with ease and comfort, similar to Paul Simon’s voice, but also with snarl and enunciation, similar to Bob Dylan. Many songs have the dark and uncertain feeling of Nebraska-era Bruce Springsteen, with a twinge of Bon Iver instrumentation.

The six-piece band brings the songs to life with a high intensity delivery of what could very easily become a passive and boring performance. While the band itself mostly remained stationary in its arc form around Granduciel, the music and light show provided everything that was needed for a great concert experience.

One of the most important moments of the show came before the lights even went out. Following the opening band, Summer Cannibals, who far exceeded expectations, Granduciel and The War on Drugs all set up their own instruments alongside the road crew. As he tested his pedal board, Granduciel simply closed his eyes and began playing beautiful guitar melodies while the chaotic inferno that is “White Light/White Heat” blasted over the PA system.

Granduciel actually appeared to be lost in time. It never mattered what was going on in the background. During the actual show, he expressed the same emotions as he did during the soundcheck – he was content and right at home, lost in the dream with a guitar in hand.

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Craig Wright

Craig Wright

Craig is the senior arts and culture editor for the Emerald. He is from West Linn, Oregon, and is a senior majoring in journalism at the UO. He has made Nick Frost laugh and has been deemed to be "f---ed up in the head" by legendary thrash-metal band Slayer.