Ah, the indie band fan’s dilemma. You have been championing them for years – sharing songs with friends, traveling to other cities to see them play different venues, spreading the word of the band’s incredible new album. Yet, you secretly want them forever playing clubs that hold less than 1,000 – right?
Headlining a show at Madison Square Garden in the center of Manhattan is a major milestone for any band. The War on Drugs have already won a Grammy, so they’re on to the next step of their career. But, how could we not long for a show at Brooklyn Steel or the legendary Tower Theater in Philly? We all know hockey arenas don’t make the best concert venues.
That being said, one of your favorite bands is playing the Garden, you show up. Even if it’s the night of a snow storm that’s progressively shutting down most of the U.S. East Coast. The last time I got to experience The War on Drugs live was in late 2019 at The Fillmore in Philadelphia, before the world closed down. They usually play a series of shows in Philly as part of a “Drugcember” holiday benefit. I had spent the last year immersed in their double album Live Drugs and the past few months with the new I Don’t Live Here Anymore. I was not going to miss this important show in my hometown.
The “World’s Most Famous Arena” filled up in waves, as people trudged in the Winter storm from all points around NYC. With seated sections only partially populated, I grabbed an empty first row seat overlooking the stage. Closest I could get to a club show.
There is an intimacy to The War of Drugs that requires your attention. You need to dive in deep before being released into a soaring guitar solo from lead singer/songwriter/guitarist Adam Granduciel. That’s the pay off.
They are a generally introverted group – with some spotlight moments – like drummer Charlie Hall’s unshakable stamina during the sax break and extended jam on “Under the Pressure” or Adam’s driving solo that closes “An Ocean in Between the Waves”. A new addition is Eliza Hardy Jones on keyboards and backing vocals – bringing an unmistakably Patty Scialfa-like vibe to the band. Her vocals offer a bright new layer that blends well.
The War on Drugs are still all about the songs. No arena rock anthems or glam moments, but they are solid. The whole band displays a type of musicianship and performance skills that only seasoned players can deliver – no matter what size stage they’re playing that night.
All Photos: Deb Johnsen