It was a rare privilege to witness The War On Drugs in Brisbane.
Though a humid aura of intense anticipation haunts the air, the punters are in no great hurry to enter The Zoo on this night of Wednesday nights.
Whether preferencing a few more procrastinatory spins of the home favourites or slugs of the ol’ vices, Melbourne’s Ali Barter unfortunately provides little motivation for actions otherwise. It’s not that she’s lacking in talent or performative finesse; her songs even sound quite good in their live incarnations. It’s more that she doesn’t really build upon the mood and momentum of this particular occasion. Any hope of progress is sunk by a cover of The Foo Fighters’ Tired Of You – a sure sign she’s missed the night’s mark by some margin. Perhaps many another, but not tonight.
In the past two years The War On Drugs have already visited this country twice, but until tonight their local fans have been starved of the complete experience that a club show offers. Couple with this the fact that they’ve since released one the most phenomenal opuses of recent years, Lost In The Dream, and a hint of the levels of anticipation and excitement permeating this room tonight can be fathomed. The heat of The Zoo, however, is unfathomable. It’s a Brisbane summer night, the room is packed to the proverbial rafters, there’s no air-con and the perspiration is mounting (by the megalitres!). The oscillating ambience that opens Burning announces the band’s arrival on stage, and while they rush it a little into the song proper, the consensus seems to indicate a feeling that no part (except the end) of tonight’s set could come too soon.
Frontman Adam Granduciel’s vocals are solid, but the full sound of the band just isn’t all the way there from the outset. It improves through Arms Like Boulders to the point that everything sounds near immaculate by the time Lost In The Dream opener, Under The Pressure bursts through the speakers. Fittingly this feels like a second beginning, and from here on in it’s a dynamic live journey all the way. It actually becomes mesmerising how good they do sound throughout. The highlight comes midway through the main body of the set, when they play An Ocean In Between The Waves and Disappearing back to back – the former showcases a strength in songwriting that pays tribute to a format still accumulating meaning through its ages, while the latter provides an ethereal soup of emotive resonance for the senses to be lost and freed within.
Maybe their music, and expressed themes, would be better suited to the festival setting and the loose abandon and progressive mindsets that it encourages and permits. However, there’s still something about the intimate experience that’s quite special. The band seem to reflect upon this sentiment, and show a gesture of appreciation for their fans with an extended encore that includes Baby Missiles, Comin’ Through, Brothers and Black Water Falls. It’s a rare privilege to see such a band at the height of their powers, and no doubt all in attendance will be counting down the days until The War On Drugs return.