The War on Drugs prove in Adam Granduciel’s new hometown why they deserved to win a Grammy more than four years ago

The War on DrugsBy Josh Herwitt //

The War on Drugs //
Shrine Auditorium – Los Angeles
February 26th, 2022 //

What can you say about Adam Granduciel that hasn’t already been said or written?

Let’s just cut to the chase then: the guy keeps getting better and better with age. And though he might give off the impression that he’s a tad bit older than the 43 years he just turned last month thanks to all of those late nights writing songs in his bedroom or at the studio, Granduciel has continued to push the band he formed in Philadelphia more than 17 years ago to new and greater heights.

The War on Drugs’ foray into music’s mainstream has been a slow churn dating all the way back to 2005 before it culminated four years ago when they beat out a number of hard-rock heavyweights in Metallica, Mastodon, Queens of the Stone Age and Nothing More to win the Grammy for “Best Rock Album” at the 60th Annual Grammy Awards.

It was a career-defining moment for the group that’s heartland sound has centered around Granduciel’s fascination with Bob Dylan — an enthusiasm for the legendary folk singer-songwriter that he and fellow Philly-bred indie rocker Kurt Vile shared when they first started playing together in each other’s projects — and continued with his love for Bruce Springsteen. (There’s also a hint of Rod Stewart and Tom Petty in Granduciel’s work for good measure.)

Six months prior, I had caught The War on Drugs at Apogee Studio for KCRW’s Apogee Sessions (read our review here), and after hearing them preview a few songs off A Deeper Understanding that evening, it was right then and there that I knew the album was well deserving of some significant hardware.

But following 2014’s seminal Lost in the Dream — the band’s third album which might be arguably better than its award-winning follow-up — with another 10-track masterpiece, Granduciel had done what only a few are capable of these days, particularly in the rock space, by creating an emotional, yet timeless gem for our earholes to bathe in.

With little room to go up from there, Granduciel certainly had a challenge on his hands when it was time to make another LP. It wasn’t just that he had become a father to his son Bruce (yes, he really is named after the Boss) in 2019 and officially moved to LA’s San Fernando Valley shortly thereafter even if those were two major life changes, but the expectations surrounding The War on Drugs’ next studio effort had only grown even more since the last one.

For Granduciel, it didn’t matter. He went back to the grind and delivered once again. What resulted after hours at his Burbank rehearsal space with engineer and producer Shawn Everett was I Don’t Live Here Anymore, which arrived back in October and peaked at No. 22 on the Billboard 200. It’s another record worthy of high praise — in fact, I ranked it my favorite album last year (see our 2021 picks here) — and at the same time more accessible than its predecessors.

What makes The War on Drugs’ albums so great, however, is that you can just let them run. There’s no need to skip a track as one flows right into the next, and I Don’t Live Here Anymore follows suit much in the same way Lost in the Dream and A Deeper Understanding do. And as Granduciel seemingly settled into his new environs with music videos filmed in California for “Living Proof” and the title track featuring Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig of Lucius, I was eager to hear the new material with an audience on hand.

So when The War on Drugs announced a tour for 2022 last summer and scheduled only one show in 2021 at Desert Daze, I knew their gig in LA at the Shrine Auditorium would feel even that much more special given Granduciel’s story but also because it was the final U.S. date before the band heads to Europe for a month. While that fact wouldn’t completely hold up with The War on Drugs replacing My Morning Jacket at Innings Festival the ensuing day, they made sure to offer quite a proper 2 1/2-hour concert experience for the nearly capacity crowd inside the landmark venue of 6,300.

Granduciel (vocals, guitars, harmonica, keyboards, samplers) and his cohorts — David Hartley (bass, backing vocals), Robbie Bennett (keyboards, piano, guitar), Charlie Hall (drums, organ), Jon Natchez (saxophone, keyboards), Anthony LaMarca (guitar, keyboards, backing vocals) and Eliza Hardy Jones (keyboards, backing vocals) — were treating us to “An Evening of LIVE DRUGS” and most were happy to oblige. That meant “Old Skin” leading things off with “Pain” batting second. “An Ocean in Between the Waves” never disappoints, and slotting it third before one of the highlights off I Don’t Live Here Anymore in “I Don’t Wanna Wait” created a huge wave of momentum that The War on Drugs carried through the rest of the set, which boasted “Strangest Thing” and “Red Eyes” back to back, another new standout in “Harmonia’s Dream” that has been extended live and an appearance by Lucius as expected with Wolfe and Laessig leaving their East Coast origins for the City of Angels a few years ago.

When it came time to take things up a notch, Granduciel turned to “Under the Pressure” as still one of the most shining achievements in his ever-expanding repertoire. That’s not to say what came after — the previously unreleased “Ocean of Darkness” that didn’t make it onto I Don’t Live Here Anymore but was debuted during The War on Drugs’ performance on “The Tonight Show” in 2020 — didn’t carry the same weight, because in many ways it did considering the song has only been played live seven times in total so far.

After taking a couple nights off in Portland and San Francisco, “In Reverse” subsequently returned to the setlist and propelled us into a short-lived encore break that only lasted a minute or two. Granduciel, after all, had more to get to before saying goodbye, as he used “Thinking of a Place” to jumpstart a four-song finish that included a cover of Bob Dylan’s “Born in Time” and “Comin’ Through” from The War on Drugs’ 2010 EP Future Weather to mark only the second time fans got to hear it on this tour and since 2019.

Granduciel isn’t one for much stage banter, and after one last thank you, he broke into I Don’t Live Here Anymore finale “Occasional Rain” to take us all home. Even though it has served as The War on Drugs’ closer for several shows on this tour, the title seemed rather appropriate in a city as dry as LA where we haven’t seen a whole lot of precipitation this winter.

People often say the phrase “when it rains, it pours” when they experience a barrage of misfortune all at the same time. In Granduciel’s case notwithstanding, the past eight years have been one big downpour of success for The War on Drugs. Now with the band at an all-time high, it doesn’t appear that the storm Granduciel has been riding will be letting up anytime soon.

Setlist:
Old Skin
Pain
An Ocean in Between the Waves
I Don’t Wanna Wait
Victim
Strangest Thing
Red Eyes
Living Proof
Harmonia’s Dream
Your Love Is Calling My Name
Come to the City
Rings Around My Father’s Eyes
I Don’t Live Here Anymore (with Lucius)
Under the Pressure
Ocean of Darkness
In Reverse

Encore:
Thinking of a Place
Born in Time (Bob Dylan cover)
Comin’ Through
Occasional Rain

Albums you’ll want to hear in 2017

2017 albumsWritten by Josh Herwitt //

For as bad as 2016 might have been, there’s no question it yielded some excellent albums. So, what’s in store for 2017? It’s still early, but from what we know right now, there’s plenty of new music on the horizon — and a lot of it we can’t wait to get our hands on.

Here are 10 upcoming albums (in chronological order by release date) that you’ll want to hear and could very well end up being on some “Best of 2017” lists in another 12 months.


Bonobo – Migration

Bonobo - Migration

Release date: January 13th
Record label: Ninja Tune

British musician, producer and DJ Simon Green has organically built a loyal following among electronic music fans for almost two decades with a unique sound that combines downtempo electronica with trip-hop and world-music influences. Since 2013’s The North Borders, he has moved to Los Angeles and recorded his sixth LP Migration, which boasts a few notable guest appearances from Nick Murphy (fka Chet Faker), Rhye and Hundred Waters.


The Flaming Lips – Oczy Mlody

The Flaming Lips - Oczy Mlody

Release date: January 13th
Record label: Warner Bros.

Wayne Coyne and his psychedelic sidekicks have been busy over the last few years, recording Beatles cover album With a Little Help From My Fwends in 2014 and releasing a collaborative LP with Miley Cyrus the following year. On their 15th studio effort, the difficult-to-pronounce Oczy Mlody that drops on Coyne’s birthday, the Lips return to the days of Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots and get a little help from their pop-star “fwend” on closing track “We a Famly”.


SOHN – Rennen

SOHN - Rennen

Release date: January 13th
Record label: 4AD

London native Christopher Taylor has been known for working extensively with such artists as BANKS, Lana Del Rey and Rhye, but his transition in becoming a legitimate solo act was cemented with the release of his 2014 debut LP Tremors, which peaked at No. 31 on the UK charts. Now calling LA his home, he has spent the last three years constructing Rennen, his second record as SOHN that’s led by “Signal” and its frighteningly beautiful music video.


The xx – I See You

The xx - I See You

Release date: January 13th
Record label: Young Turks

No impending album in the first quarter of 2017 may have as much hype around it as The xx’s I See You, their long-awaited follow-up to 2012’s Coexist. The build-up to its release in the last few months has seen the London trio perform on SNL, where they showcased lead single “On Hold” and debuted “I Dare You”, and play shows in Eastern Europe to go along with the news of guitarist/vocalist Romy Madley Croft’s recent engagement.


Cloud Nothings – Life Without Sound

Cloud Nothings - Life Without Sound

Release date: January 27th
Record label: Carpark Records

Lo-fi noise rockers Cloud Nothings have come a long way since Dylan Baldi started recording songs in his parents’ basement. With their last two LPs — 2012’s Attack on Memory and 2014’s Here and Nowhere Else — garnering critical acclaim from the music media, the four-piece will release Life Without Sound, its fifth studio album and first with lead guitarist Chris Brown now officially a member of the band, later this month.


Japandroids – Near to the Wild Heart of Life

Japandroids - Near to the Wild Heart of Life

Release date: January 27th
Record label: ANTI-

Known for their DIY approach and high-energy performances, Brian King and David Prowse are back after what some may have considered a brief hiatus since touring in support of their 2012 studio album Celebration Rock. This time, the Canadian garage-punk duo is signed to a new label, with its third LP Near to the Wild Heart of Life set to drop on ANTI- in a couple of weeks before embarking on a 20-date North American tour this winter.


Elbow – Little Fictions

Elbow - Little Fictions

Release date: February 3rd
Record label: Polydor

2017 marks a big year for Elbow. The Mercury Prize winners have been going at it for 20 years, and to celebrate the occasion, frontman Guy Garvey and company are unveiling their seventh studio album Little Fictions, which features collaborations with The Hallé Orchestra and their choir after longtime drummer Richard Jupp announced in 2016 that he was leaving the group to pursue other creative projects, from expanding his drum school to various charity work.


Sampha – Process

Sampha - Process

Release date: February 3rd
Record label: Young Turks

Sampha Sisay, who performs under his mononymous stage name, has built much of his reputation on working with high-profile artists like Drake, Kanye West and Solange. But almost seven years after unveiling his debut EP Sundanza, the South London electronic musician, singer-songwriter and producer is finally dropping his own full-length effort, highlighted by previously released singles “Timmy’s Prayer” and “Blood on Me”.


Ryan Adams – Prisoner

Ryan Adams - Prisoner

Release date: February 17th
Record label: PAX AM/Blue Note

At the age of 42, Ryan Adams is as prolific as any musician out there right now, with Prisoner marking his 16th LP and the follow-up to his Taylor Swift cover album. And while he has been teasing the record for about six months, originally hinting at a possible November release, the alt-country songwriter gets ready for his next chapter, which he says was inspired by 80’s rock giants like Bruce Springsteen and AC/DC despite coping with a very public divorce at the time.


The Shins – Headworms

The Shins - Heartworms

Release date: March 10
Record label: Columbia

By the time The Shins unleash their fifth LP this March, it will be nearly five years between album releases for the Portland-based outfit. Of course, it’s no secret that bandleader James Mercer keeps a tight schedule between The Shins and Broken Bells, but on Heartworms, the Albuquerque native made sure to include “So Now What”, the song he wrote for the “Wish I Was Here” soundtrack that he later said was “one of the best things” he has ever done.


The following artists and bands are expected to release new albums in 2017 but have yet to confirm an official release date and/or an album title:

ANTEMASQUE
Arcade Fire
Broken Social Scene
Bruce Springsteen
Chic
Chromatics
Depeche Mode
Diddy
DJ Premier
Gorillaz
Grizzly Bear
GZA
Haim
Jesu/Sun Kil Moon
John Mayer
Kanye West
The Killers
LCD Soundsystem
Lupe Fiasco
Major Lazer
Mastodon
Modest Mouse
My Morning Jacket
The National
The Offspring
Pond
Ride
Sky Ferreira
Spiritualized
St. Vincent
T.I.
Troye Sivan
Vampire Weekend
Wyclef Jean
Zack de la Rocha


25 of the best cover songs ever

It’s pretty hard to proclaim the best cover songs of all time — there have been so many great covers performed in the studio and in a live environment. So that’s why we’re framing this as “25 of the Best Cover Songs Ever”. This list is not as hyperbolic as we prefer to be, but our top 10 is pretty damn solid.

Some prescribe to the theory that a cover song has to be better than the original to be great, or considered one of the the best. I don’t believe this to be true. There are cases in this list where the cover song does not surpass the original in greatness (see #25 for example). But if a cover song attempts to be different and successfully recreates a track to make it original and timeless in its own way, credit should be granted.

What did we miss? Leave us a comment with a YouTube link.

25. Chromatics – “Into the Black”
Originally by Neil Young

24. Guns N’ Roses – “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door”
Originally by Bob Dylan

23. Bob Dylan – “Train of Love”
Originally by Johnny Cash

22. Johnny Cash – “I’m on Fire”
Originally by Bruce Springsteen

21. Bruce Springsteen – “Trapped”
Originally by Jimmy Cliff

20. Birdy – “Skinny Love”
Originally by Bon Iver

19. Sublime (featuring Alex Grenwald) – “Scarlet Begonias”
Originally by the Grateful Dead

18. Grateful Dead – “Morning Dew”
Originally by Bonnie Dobson

17. Alison Krauss & Robert Plant – “Trampled Rose”
Originally by Tom Waits

16. Santana – “Black Magic Woman”
Originally by Fleetwood Mac

15. Sharon Jones – “It’s a Man’s World”
Originally by James Brown

14. Radiohead – “The Headmaster Ritual”
Originally by The Smiths

13. Eric Clapton – “Coccaine”
Originally by JJ Cale

12. Tina & Ike Turner – “Proud Mary”
Originally by Creedence Clearwater Revival

11. Creedence Clearwater Revival – “I Heard It Through the Grapevine”
Originally by Smokey Robinson & the Miracles

10. The White Stripes – “Jolene”
Originally by Dolly Parton

9. Joe Cocker – “With a Little Help from My Friends”
Originally by The Beatles

8. The Beatles – “Twist & Shout”
Originally by The Top Notes, made famous by The Isley Brothers

7. Nirvana – “Where Did You Sleep Last Night”
Traditional song; arranged by Lead Belly

6. Janis Joplin – “Me and Bobby McGee”
Originally by Kris Kristofferson

5. Phish – “Remain in Light” LP in it’s entirety
Originally by Talking Heads

4. Talking Heads – “Take Me to the River”
Originally by Al Green

3. Aretha Franklin – “Respect”
Originally by Otis Redding.

2. Jimi Hendrix – All Along the Watchtower
Originally by Bob Dylan.

1. Johnny Cash – Hurt
Originally by Nine Inch Nails.

10 most important Political Protest Songs of the last 50 years

As President Obama looks ahead to four more years, let’s look at the 10 most important political protest songs of the last 50 years, from oldest to most recent. What did we miss? Leave a comment below.

(1963) Sam CookeA Change is Gonna Come

Upon hearing Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind” in 1963, Cooke was greatly moved that such a poignant song about racism in America could come from someone who was not black. (Source: The RS 500 Greatest Songs of All Time). This was an era of segregation, and Cooke was very popular with white audiences due to his hit “Twistin’ the Night Away,” so it took guts to create this song and perform it before the Civil Rights Movement had really begun.

(1964) Bob DylanThe Times They Are A Changing

In 1985, Dylan told Cameron Crowe for Rolling Stone, “This was definitely a song with a purpose…I wanted to write a big song, with short concise verses that piled up on each other in a hypnotic way. The civil rights movement and the folk music movement were pretty close for a while and allied together at that time.” This song, along with “Blowin’ in the Wind,” cemented dylan as a lead counter-culture figure.

(1969) Creedence Clearwater RevivalFortunate Son

Many of the best US political protest songs relate tot he Vietnam War, and one of the best is “Fortunate Son” by CCR. Fogerty is pretty blunt and loud in speaking for the working, middle and low-income earners, the sons drafted to fight. John Fogerty told Rolling Stone, “Julie Nixon was hanging around with David Eisenhower, and you just had the feeling that none of these people were going to be involved with the war.

(1970) Gil Scott HeronThe Revolution Will Not Be Televised

Probably the biggest influence in hip hop history, even after his death in 2011, “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” is Gil Scott Heron’s most important and influential poetic track. Heron wins the listener over with his humor, but it’s one of the best political protest songs of all time due to it’s subversion during the Nixon era.

(1970) Crosby Stills Nash & YoungOhio

“Ohio” was written by Neil Young as a reaction to the US military personel killing of four Vietnam War protestors at Kent State University, the event that effectively ended US support of the disastrous war. CSNY added to the pressure with this classic, catchy song that ensured that the the Kent State shooting stayed on the mind of the American public for months and years to come.

(1973) Bob Marley & Peter ToshGet Up,Stand Up

Like “Ohio,” “Get Up, Stand Up” is an overtly political song. Unlike CSNY, Bob Marley is best known for being the most prominent Raggae musician of all time, smoking copious amounts of marijuana, and for his political protest songs. (Alright, CSNY probably smoked lots of weed) And this track owns the best lines in political protest music history: “You can fool some people sometimes, but you can’t fool all the people all the time. So now we see the light! We gonna stand up for our rights!”

(1984) Bruce Springsteen Born In the U.S.A.

This song was mistaken as a positive American anthem for years, and still is today by many. Ronald Reagan even used this song in his 1984 reelection campaign and tried to claim Bruce as a supporter! Lyrically the song takes a realistic approach the effects of the Vietnam war on those that were forced to go fight in Southeast Asia, but if you manage to only listen to the chorus, it can be seen as a patriotic anthem. Brian Doherty wrote, “The song’s lyrics are about a shell-shocked vet with ‘no place to run, nowhere to go.’ Bruce once said it’s about “a working-class man…It’s like he has nothing left to tie him into society anymore. He’s isolated from the government. Isolated from his family…to the point where nothing makes sense.” It’s not an overt political protest song, but it’s way closer to that then a national anthem.

(1989) Public EnemyFight the Power

“Fight the Power” was brilliantly used as Radio Raheem’s jam of choice and musical motif to the classic Spike Lee film Do The Right Thing. It was Public Enemy’s breakthrough song, and it incorporates references to many parts of African-American culture, including civil rights samples, black church services sounds, and the music of James Brown. And laying the smack down on Elvis Presley & John Wayne for their on-the-record white supremacist views certainly is the cherry on top of this political protest firestorm of a sundae.

(1992) Rage Against the MachineKilling In The Name

Rage was one of the most politically active groups at a time when political protest songs weren’t and aren’t very common. “Killing in the Name” is the quintessential Rage Against the Machine song, with it’s confronting vocals that link police to racism with the line “Some of those that work forces, are the same that burn crosses,” and with the ending refrain “Fuck You, I won’t do what you told me.” Zach de la Rocha & Tom Morello almost inspired a riot at the Democratic National Convention in 2000. Then de la Rocha abruptly left the group, but Tom Morello has continued his political activity, most recently getting involved in the Occupy WallStreet movement.

(2012) Killer MikeReagan

Hip hop artist Killer Mike put out an excellent LP this year called R.A.P. Music, and Mike’s passion and effective deconstruction of Reaganomics & the man himself is stinging. He explores the Iran Contra scandal, privatization of the prison system, how all US presidents are puppets to the elite (including Obama). One of the best tracks of 2012, “Reagan” shows that political protest songs are far from dead.