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 they’ve 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