I want to start this with a confession; I am whole-heartedly, unabashedly, and helplessly in love with The War on Drugs. It started as a crush back in 2008, when a friend introduced me to “Wagonwheel Blues.” The rolling drums and erratic cries of the harmonica in the opening track Arms Like Boulders had me hooked. The release of “Future Weather” in 2010 saw a more polished and melancholy sound, which has lingered on through the bands later albums. The song Baby Missiles became my paper-writing anthem, played on repeat during countless all-nighters. In 2011, they opened for Destroyer and I was blown away by the live performance. “Slave Ambient” had just been released, and they played the hell out of it that night. During Come to the City, I remember feeling overcome by the gradual build in pace, the constant and insistent beat, and the intensity of Adam Granduciel’s vocals. They played Brothers, the crowd sang along to Comin’ Through, and I wished they would never leave the stage.
From 2011 to 2014, they were always on my playlists, but I’ll admit I lost track of them for a while. The release of “Lost in the Dream” caught me by surprise and I didn’t give it a listen until it had already been out for a few months. I don’t know how to describe the experience without sounding insane, so I’m just going to go for it. Within the first 35 seconds of the album, I was already madly in love. As I listened to Under the Pressure, I couldn’t help but think that it was everything I had ever wanted in a song. Every chord struck so deep, the timing of the vocals was so perfect, and every strike of the piano keys seemed to resonate in a way I’d never experienced before. The ups and downs of the song, the gradual build up around the four-minute mark, and the eventual crescendo of guitars, Adam’s voice, and the driving beats, always leave me feeling breathless and exhilarated. The extended outro is almost like a come down, rambling into feedback as a way to recover from the emotional upheaval of the song.
The following song, Red Eyes, is a joyfully pulsing rockfest, and it’s easy to understand why it’s their most popular track. Similar to Under the Pressure, every twist and turn of the song leads to the dream destination. It truly feels like the perfect song, as Granduciel’s yelps and shouts coupled with the racing guitar and drums make me want to run hooting and hollering through endless meadows, tears of joy and a secret fear of the unknown running down my face. It’s a track that makes me feel like I’ll be young, excited, and restless forever, and it would be a fate I’d welcome with open arms.
After that intense intro, the rest of the album always feels like a blur. From the distant and beautiful drifting vocals of Disappearing to the gently dismissive and melancholy lyrics of In Reverse, every song strikes a chord. I remember reading somewhere that Granduciel wrote the album after coming down from the high of touring. He was having trouble transitioning back into his everyday routine and felt depressed by the reality of life off the road. I discovered this album during a time of transition, and I greatly related to his interviews as well as the general tone of the album. Eyes to the Wind reminded me of my own desires to escape my life and go wherever my heart took me, while Suffering held me to wallow in my current sadness and feelings of stagnation.
I listened to “Lost in the Dream” everyday for at least three months after first discovering it. I’ve played it countless times in the kitchen at work, and I often listen to it on the train home. Even now, though my life has changed and I find myself feeling free and happy with my current situation, I still feel the same emotional pulls as I cycle through the album. So of course, in my current state of obsessive devotion, there was no doubt in my mind I would have to see them play live again.
The War on Drugs played on April 14th at The Majestic Ventura Theater. They opened with Under the Pressure and a man next to us pumped his fists in the air, played air guitar, and expressed every emotion I had ever experienced listening to that song. It was incredible. Every song they played was seamless and the whole band was a joy to watch. From the excited bouncing of the drummer to the times Adam hurriedly rushed to the mic to thank the audience, it was all thrilling and intimate in a way I wish every concert could be. It was the one of best concerts I’ve ever attended, and while I know I may be bias, I’d like to think the huge grins on the face of my fellow attendees meant they felt similarly. I smiled so much that my cheeks hurt and when we finally left the theater I was grateful for the ringing in my ears.