"Granduciel, despite his smile, is a haunted man."
Sydney's Middle Kids opened with a charming set that sounded earnest and sunny, but lacked any punch, and quickly faded from memory after song two from the headliner. Hannah Joy's vocals were great, but it wasn't enough to make a dent in The War On Drugs' impression.
Adam Granduciel, The War On Drugs frontman, has enjoyed a golden run of late.
Fresh off the back of a Grammy win, the unkempt Philadelphian has pushed through a sold-out tour in support of A Deeper Understanding, an album that may be the best in an already-stacked catalogue. Despite the accolades and success, the man hunched over his instrument, holding it the way a medic holds a dying soldier. His banter was stilted but warm and his band - with their long hair, headbands and taciturn professionalism - acted like they were responsible for something significant. Maybe they were. Their music, a spectral homage to an America that probably doesn't exist anymore, was beautiful. The set felt long, but in the way that car trips can feel long, where you slip into the space between sleep and wakefulness, drifting, at peace.
The War On Drugs' classic-rock sound cloaked Granduciel's breathy pleading voice, billowing and dissipating, always moving. Their songs are long and reward patience, but Thinking Of A Place was truly remarkable. It's an 11-minute opus of romantic Americana that was drawn out to great effect, allowing Granduciel's exquisitely beleaguered solo to roll on and on, letting the band fade out behind him before picking things up for the second half.
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Under The Pressure was about as epic as you would want, a vast expanse of guitars and piano and rock-steady drumming that kept it rolling along a potentially endless blacktop highway somewhere in your head. It got a huge response but, even so, Granduciel and co played it cool.
They offered an interesting counterpoint to their current predilection for impressive Springsteen/Dylan-style blockbusters with a relatively contained track from Wagonwheel Blues, Buenos Aires Beach. At a brisk three-and-a-half minutes long, it was a palette cleanser. Eyes To The Wind confidently dominated the encore, but You Don't Have To Go was a touching way to end the show. Granduciel, despite his smile, is a haunted man.