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The War on Drugs are winning

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Photos by Sam Heller // Written by Kevin Quandt //

The War On Drugs with Heron Oblivion //
The Independent — San Francisco
Wednesday April 2, 2014 //

Adam Granduciel has arrived to the next level, as The War on Drugs have broken through the underground in a big way with their latest release entitled, Lost in a Dream. The subsequent, and long awaited, tour has been nothing short of fantastic as an expanded band has led to their most sonically pleasing tour to date. Having sold out nearly their entire run of shows, the anticipation was high for a two-night stand at the Independent. Both evenings were viewed as a treat for longtime fans, but possibly bittersweet as this is sure to be their last time in rooms of this size. However, the capacity crowd on Wednesday was ready to be apart of something special – a sublime evening led by one of our generation’s brightest creators.

The second show of the series featured relatively unknown noise-rockers, Heron Oblivion, playing a blisteringly loud set of feedback-heavy rock with sultry female vocals cooed by their drummer. It was lovely and abrasive at the same time, seeming to meld Jefferson Starship with Sonic Youth in a heavy, heavy way.

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A quick stage changeover led to Granduciel and band taking the stage promptly at 9:30 as the edges of the venue became tighter and tighter. “An Ocean in Between the Waves” was a pleasant, and rare, show opener as the crowd eased into the new, thicker live sound; much fuller compared to their last performance at the Independent over two years ago. Future Weather standout track “Baby Missiles” led into “Under the Pressure”, a wallop of a pairing, as each track was perfectly extended adding extra moments to bask in the aural beauty that Granduciel churns out like no other current musician. It’s not too hard to hear Granduciel’s influences when you listen to his various records as The War on Drugs, but his influence from classic artists like Tom Petty, Bruce Springsteen and Bob Dylan are represented through appropriation as opposed to imitation. The combination of these classic rock sounds have never sounded so fresh or revitalized.

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At this point in the show, the core 6-piece band expanded by the addition of a pedal steel guitar player for “Suffering”, a pleasant change in sound and tempo had a receptive crowd contently eating out their hands. “I Was There” is always a highlight of any WOD show, and was no different tonight as Granduciel tenderly belted out this classic cut before launching into their latest single. “Red Eyes” had the crowd ‘wooing’ along in jubilee with the man who was front and center. One pleasant surprise for longtime fans was the inclusion of older tracks like “Arms Like Boulders” off of Wagonwheel Blues – featuring a favorite lyric of this writer, “Chasing squirrels around your property / Making sure that they know that this is your kingdom.” As the lengthy set drifted on, heavier ambient jams would take flight, eventually leading to set closer, “In Reverse”.

Few attendees made an early exit on this weeknight, and the faithful were rewarded with a big encore that started off with a newer cover being featured this tour. John Lennon’s “Mind Games” was a serious highlight, delivered in a manner that few current acts can do. “Disappearing” led into a true War on Drugs classic, “Brothers”. This song has had a long life as it first appeared on Future Weather as a stripped down acoustic track nodding to Dylan before morphing into a full-band cut off of Slave Ambient. It now it sounds almost unrecognizable as the vocal phrasing and music has been altered, demonstrating the skill of song-crafting that Granduciel has become so well known for. Expect big things from The War on Drugs as they are rising stock for all the right reasons.

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