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Live Review: The War On Drugs

16 February 2018 | 9:36 am | Bryget Chrisfield

"The War On Drugs are technically perfect to the point of excellence where if you shut your eyes you can imagine reclining at home in a La-Z-Boy with the sounds filtering through top noise-cancelling headphones."

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Much gushing followed The War On Drugs' Laneway sets and, having chosen to hold out for their sideshow, we're eager to experience the meditative, life-changing wonderment described by those who concluded their festivals by watching this Philadelphia sextet on The Very West Stage.

There's a really cool arc of illuminated mini pyramids lighting up in multi-colours across the Forum Theatre stage's back wall behind the drum riser and kaleidoscopic moving lights on stage, but it's this band's music that creates the unparalleled ambience. The War On Drugs strum gently into Eyes To The Wind and the evocative lyrics transport us directly to Adam Granduciel's "back streets where the pines grow". These songs have as powerful a sense of place as anything by Springsteen. He's a mop of flailing hair up there and it's not just the frontman's guitar virtuosity that thrills, it's also his harmonica playing, which sees us time-travelling way back to the Wild West or on the set of a Spaghetti Western.

As expected, tonight's setlist draws heavily from the band's stunning latest A Deeper Understanding set (no complaints here). The War On Drugs are technically perfect to the point of excellence where if you shut your eyes you can imagine reclining at home in a La-Z-Boy with the sounds filtering through top noise-cancelling headphones. The band's musical interplay is next-level, with multiple guitars morphing together to sound like the same instrument being played simultaneously in different keys (see: Pain). Focused lights shine a spotlight on various players and we notice that sometimes different musicians have their eyes are shut, locking in intently to put forward the exact required notes. We get our sidestep on for the despondent Nothing To Find, even though the lyrical content is desperately forlorn. These are definitely musicians' musicians, as intuitive with their playing as a flock of birds twisting and dive-bombing in full-flight unison. Is it possible to be too perfect?

The band's sound is vast and soaring. Everyone's been eagerly anticipating Red Eyes, during which brass cuts through the arrangement so subtly that Kenny G would probably gesticulate wildly toward the sound desk for a dramatic volume increase. But for The War On Drugs it's all about serving the whole.

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Yep, seeing The War On Drugs live is a spiritual experience. We're completely there, next to Granduciel in the location he describes with trademark plaintive timbre, emotionally invested, contemplating your own existence and "the beauty and the pain" of life. The War On Drugs write music that sounds like a Wes Anderson film looks (particularly the incandescent Lost In The Dream with its delicate-but-insistent tambourine).