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Live Review and Photos: The War On Drugs, October 22, 2011, The Satellite – Los Angeles, CA



The War on Drugs’ music doesn’t really fit into the “hip” category. While their newest album Slave Ambient has been critically acclaimed, its sound is so indebted to roots music and artists like Bruce Springsteen that it’s easy to imagine people dismissing it as not being interesting or “original.” Ten minutes before The War On Drugs were set to take to the stage it seemed like The War On Drugs had fallen particularly afoul of this notion in Los Angeles – one of the hippest cities in the world – and I was starting to lose faith that people know plain old quality when it smacks them in the face. Thankfully, at the last second The Satellite suddenly became packed, with everyone seemingly being too busy to show up earlier. The band came on at 11pm on a Saturday night, I don’t really know what their excuses could have been, but I didn’t care, I was just happy that The War On Drugs were getting the kind of reception they deserved – and for their part the band seemed completely amped by the sell-out crowd, delivering an electric performance.

Unfortunately for those arriving late they missed the two support acts. The first of which was the fantastic Carter Tanton, who’s supporting The War On Drugs on their entire nationwide tour. Tanton had an album out back in 2005, but on this tour he is supporting his upcoming release, Freeclouds, due out next month on Western Vinyl. The pairing with The War On Drugs is perfect as Tanton and his band (a drummer and keyboardist) play the same kind of winding, sprawling slightly Americana-tinged rock music. Tanton played a 12-string guitar, and in the instrumental periods he would recede back from his microphone and make the most of all the different sounds that the versatile instrument would allow him. It was easy to forget that Tanton had a band with him as his gracefully ecstatic movement was a joy to behold as he played.

Sometimes you think you can tell exactly what a band is going to sound like from their appearance or their band name, or both. This was exactly my assumption with Purling Hiss; a trio of guys two of whom possessed shaggy manes. I was pretty much exactly correct in my assumption that they were going to make loud rock music indebted somewhat to psych – but there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, especially in a live setting, and it was significantly less obnoxious than their name suggests. Their entire set roared and they rarely relented as they drove their instruments on to stay as loud as possible the entire time. Singer Mike Polizze’s vocals were almost entirely drowned in the current of noise for the whole performance, but I don’t think we were missing anything there. The rhythm section seemed contented to keep a rhythm going for most of the set while Polizze went crazy on guitar, making full use of his various pedals to create different textures of sound. When bassist Kiel Everitt did go on a little walkabout and play something a little more interesting it was a definite highlight, showing the heights this band can reach. In the past Purling Hiss has been primarily a solo project of Polizze, but if Everitt and drummer Mike Sneeringer stick around, this could become a more well-rounded project.

From the start of The War On Drugs’ performance, it was pretty evident that leader Adam Granduciel was a bit of a nerd, introducing each song by announcing which release it came from, and even noting that second song “Baby Missiles” was on two releases. His decision to wear ‘double denim’ (jacket and jeans) is widely regarded as a fashion faux-pas so that wouldn’t have won him many fans amongst those in the audience who considered themselves trendy. But, man does none of that matter, because he and his band can really rock. Again vocals were largely lost to the well of noise, which was a shame since Granduciel’s lyrics are one of the band’s highlights, but he let his guitar do a lot of the talking.

While Granduciel and his guitar were evidently the centre of attention, special mention must go to Kyle Hall, whose work on organ subtly enhanced songs like “I Was There,” and the whole band showed their strengths by producing a tearing live version of “Your Love Is Calling My Name.” Granduciel and co. knew how to please the fans, making sure to cover all bases, satisfying all fans by playing plenty from Slave Ambient but also a fair amount from debut Whagonwheel Blues and even took a couple of excursions into the Future Weather EP. They also knew how to play to their strengths, seemingly knowing that Slave Ambient highlight “Come To The City” works best coming out of the instrumental break that precedes it on the album, so trumpets and keyboards were brought out for this one small segment to build a wall of sound into the song.

The War On Drugs played for well over an hour, but it was easy to get lost in the haze of guitars and the time flew by. While The War On Drugs’ sound may not be immediate, or party friendly, or easily digestible, they proved on their records, and even more emphatically in their live show, that they are creators of some of the most engrossing music around. And that will give it more staying power than the vast majority of what’s out there.


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