The War on Drugs – Live at the Tabernacle

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Sold out.  Maybe there were more people than that, or else the abundant youthfulness of the crowd drew more to the floor rather than for the balcony seats.  We sat.  Thanks, kids.

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This was my second show by this band, and both times I walked away… liking them?  I do like most of the songs on their last two CDs.  It’s rock, but it’s easy on the ears – not junk food by any means, but not a heavy meal, either.  The songs that succeed best generally start slower or with a relatively muted blend of instruments which build gradually to a moment where the catharsis happens – maybe it’s a strong guitar lead, maybe it’s just the drummer striking his kit rather than tapping them – but at that moment the aggression of rock ‘n roll is due, and it finally breaks through. 

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In concert, it’s similar, except you trade the audio clarity from home speakers or a earbuds for the visuals, the shared experience, the pulsing vibrations from music played loud… and auditory processes that take a while to sort out the sounds in the venue. 

This is actually a strength for seeing this band live.  The drummer isn’t asked to do anything beyond sophomore level metronome classes, the keyboards (up to three at once) are easily heard because they don’t compete for sonic space, and the rhythm guitar is, well, pretty much not heard.  But an aural palate with this in the background leaves ample foreground space – Adam Granduciel’s voice, his lead guitar, and the particularly splendid moments when a baritone sax claims the venue.

Imagine, perhaps, a mid-80’s E-Street band backing playing “The Boys of Summer” with a vocalist who is not seeking attention and whose words, live anyway, are mostly indecipherable.  But that’s okay, his voice is the emotive influence that leads to the aforementioned guitar pyrotechnics or the bari-sax.

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Don’t get me wrong, he’s a good singer with good lyrics, but you need to know the lyrics if it’s important for you to enjoy hearing the songs live – at this venue anyway.  In any case, this show started out hot.  The first three songs (“Holding On,” “Pain,” and “An Ocean Between the Waves”) set a pace that makes one think, “We’re in for a helluva night!”  And, that, of course, is unsustainable.  After the fifth song, “Red Eyes,” the show settled into an enjoyable and listenable evening.  Located elsewhere, you might be listening to those songs while playing cards with friends and tapping your foot.

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“Eyes to the Wind,” the closer for the regular set, picked up the pace and made for a decent sendoff, but it wasn’t until “Under the Pressure” in the encore that the band reclaimed an elevated audience enthusiasm.  The finale, “In Reverse,” is a fine song, but it served as a reminder of the inadequate pacing of the show and, well, gee, it’s a work night.  Time to leave anyway.

Setlist:

  1. Holding On
  2. Pain
  3. An Ocean in Between the Waves
  4. Strangest Thing
  5. Red Eyes
  6. Knocked Down
  7. Lost in the Dream
  8. Buenos Aires Beach
  9. In Chains
  10. Up All Night
  11. Nothing to Find
  12. You Don't Have to Go
  13. Eyes to the Wind

  14. Encore:
  15. Burning
  16. Under the Pressure
  17. In Reverse

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