These sorts of personal transformations require a considerable amount of patience, and so does listening to the War on Drugs. Their sound unfolds like a dusty, tattered map, but the destinations they eventually reveal are well worth the wait and effort.
The Philadelphia sextet took the sold-out Palace Theatre on many riff-filled journeys throughout their two-hour and 15-minute set. Their elegant, aching songs washed away all our nagging concerns until just the music and the moment remained.
WoD frontman and founder Adam Granduciel made clear early on that this wasn’t going to be just a regular tour stop for the band. “We realized when we came through here this summer that this might be the number one rock city in the country,” he said. “And we don’t just say that in every city.” They played like a band determined to add their own distinctive din to the legendary rock ‘n’ roll echoes that have come out of the Twin Cities.
During their 17-song set, the band treated fans to all ten tracks from their stellar new record, A Deeper Understanding, released at the end of August, as well as five jams from 2014’s exquisite Lost In the Dream. A string of sparkling pyramid lights adorned the spare stage, creating the relaxed feel of a neighborhood backyard summer party.
“Am I just living in the space between/ The beauty and the pain/ And the real thing?” Granduciel asks on “Strangest Thing.” And indeed, much of his music exists within the margins between grace and suffering, illuminating the hardships that befall you when you stray too far from your center and feel lost. Granduciel’s songs capture the uncertainty that comes when you put a bad situation behind you in search of a new way forward, playing out like a road trip to place you’ve never been that still feels like home when you arrive.
The band’s sound, born to fit in small, beer-soaked clubs, had no problem adjusting to the larger room, adding refined keyboard strains and tasteful horns to the mix. But WoD are at their best when Adam and the boys are shredding, and they were throughout much of the performance, offering up one filthy guitar solo on top of another during scorching takes on “Holding On,” “An Ocean in Between the Waves,” and a revelatory, harmonica-drenched run through of “Eyes to the Wind.”
The occasional lulls in the performance (“Knocked Down” and “You Don’t Have to Go”) were a necessary part of the voyage, giving you the time to reflect on where you’ve been to better understand where you’re going. The fiery end to the main set rewarded our perseverance and support, with blistering versions of “Burning,” “Red Eyes,” and an utterly triumphant “Under the Pressure,” which Adam dedicated to “our friend Craig Finn, who is playing right down the street tonight” (at the Turf Club).
The encore was a victory lap. They stretched out a bit on the wistful beauty of “Thinking of a Place,” before paying tribute to Tom Petty with a rollicking cover of “Time to Move On.” It was a perfect finish to an evening where the War on Drugs led us down a crooked highway that took us somewhere special, strange, and new.
Click here to see photos of WoD rockin’ the Palace
An Ocean in Between the Waves
Nothing to Find
Buenos Aires Beach
Eyes to the Wind
You Don’t Have to Go
Up All Night
Under the Pressure
Thinking of a Place
Time to Move On (Tom Petty cover)