I never thought I’d look back on live shows as if they’re something from the past. Something that doesn’t exist anymore, so we have to live those experiences through live albums. Well if 2020 has taught me anything it’s that nothing is forever, folks.
Thankfully there are some truly great live albums that exist. Albums that can transport us from the drive home from work or our living room to a grand theater, muddy lawn or sports arena with hundreds or thousands of screaming fans. Allman Brothers’ Live At The Fillmore, Wilco’s Kicking Television, Hendrix’ Live At Woodstock, Govt. Mule’s Sco-Mule, and now The War On Drugs’ Live Drugs.
The War On Drugs have proven to be one of the best American rock bands working today, with singer/guitarist/songwriter Adam Granduciel creating a hefty classic songbook culled from albums Slave Ambient, Lost In The Dream, and their most recent 2017s A Deeper Understanding. Live Drugs is put together from several shows, with the majority of the songs from their last two releases. It’s a window to see how incredible this band has gotten as a live unit, giving Granduciel and Co the proper live LP to show their domination of the stage.
So in 2015 my wife and I were lucky enough to see The War On Drugs at a small club in Indianapolis called The Vogue. They were still touring off Lost In The Dream and even at this point they’d become an extremely tight live band. The songs from Lost In The Dream sounded incredible, and Adam Granduciel was able to show his guitar prowess to a clamoring Midwestern crowd. It was a truly special show, and one my wife and I still think back to longingly.
Live Drugs captures that magic, giving us ten tracks at well over an hour. One of the highlights is a cover of Warren Zevon’s “Accidently Like A Martyr”, a song that feels very much a part of the War On Drugs canon. Granduciel sounds right at home singing Zevon. The War On Drugs also reach way back to 2008 for “Buenos Aires Beach” from the band’s debut album Wagonwheel Blues. It reaches back to a simpler time before the band completely blew up.
The rest of the album is filled with the big, epic tracks that have taken the band from indie label Secretly Canadian to Atlantic Records. The band has a strength to their live sound, with the driving “An Ocean Between The Waves” opening the album. Granduciel’s exploratory and dreamy songwriting is accentuated by the driving motorik beat. “Strangest Thing” simmers like some big and dynamic 80s pop track that dominated radio. The 80s Springsteen vibes are alive and well here, reaching back to a time when rock could be anthemic and not embarrassed about. “Red Eyes” is pure stadium joy, reaching a kind of ecstatic freedom live amongst a crowd of onlookers.
One of my personal highlights here is “Thinking Of A Place”, a track that was released as a single on RSD 2017 prior to A Deeper Understanding’s release later that summer. It’s the proto War On Drugs track; soulful inflection, dreamy instrumentation, and Granduciel’s storytelling. The magic of this track is captured live and expanded on for eyes and ears to enjoy.
Hopefully someday we will all meet up at some stadium show, or some outdoor venue under fading skies to experience the communal gathering of men, women, and children to hear live music. Until that happens, The War On Drugs have us covered. Live Drugs will cure what ails ya.
8.2 out of 10