The War on Drugs

support Few Bits
author MIN date 25/11/17 venue Tap1, Copenhagen, DEN

American indie-rock band The War on Drugs have experienced quite a rise in popularity since the release of their brilliant third LP, ”Lost in the Dream” from 2014. That very same year, the band’s concert at Lille Vega moved to Store Vega, and a year later, they played at Roskilde Festival’s second largest stage, Arena. Three months ago, The War on Drugs released their fourth LP, ”A Deeper Understanding”, which further improved the band’s discography. Therefore, it’s with much excitement that I partake in the first of two (almost) sold out shows at Copenhagen’s relocated venue TAP1.

All photos courtesy of Peter Troest.

Few Bits

Tonight’s support is provided by the Belgian rock band Few Bits from Antwerp, who starts by greeting the audience as soon as they take the stage, obviously very excited to be joining The War on Drugs on a few dates through northern Europe. As the band starts to play, it becomes very clear just why The War on Drugs have chosen this band in particular to open for them: the sextet creates a country/folk-like foundation through the use of an acoustic guitar, while layers of electric guitars pile over it, creating a very dreamy indie-rock soundscape not unlike that of tonight’s headliner. Vocalist Karolien Van Ransbeeck’s soft, sometimes whispery voice penetrates the almost Beach House-like mesmerizing melodies, only hindered by the fact that the sound in the venue is far from loud or clear enough, and as a result the band never really gets a hold of the farthest corners of the audience. The people up-front seem engaged, though, and the band’s ultimately putting on a good show. Some up-beat rockers with catchy, reoccurring guitar hooks spice things up in-between the soft ballades, and the band’s set ends with a loud, noisy climax that leaves a positive impression on me. If faced with better circumstances during their next visit, Few Bits will surely be capable of delivering an excellent show.

6

The War on Drugs

As I’ve confined myself nicely by the soundguy before the venue gets too crowded, I’m hopeful that the sound provided for The War on Drugs will improve greatly on the one presented during Few Bits’ show. Alas, it does not, and the otherwise amazing “In Chains” from the band’s latest LP comes off as vapid and unstimulating, especially due to a lack of emphasize on the rhythm-section and frontman Adam Granduciel’s guitar. Surely, the band’s primus motor’s voice is at the front in a mix where the treble is highly emphasized, but tonight’s sound is sorely hurting from a lack of pondus. During the next few songs, the mix changes back and forth in expression – giving the impression that whoever by the FoH is doing her/his best at wrestling with the venue’s unfair conditions – but although songs like “An Ocean in Between the Waves” and “Baby Missiles” are nice revisits plucked from the band’s earlier material, it feels more like the music is heading straight towards you instead of engulfing you.

Although the crowd tonight might be rather talkative, especially during the band’s quieter songs, it’s a thrill to witness so many people live up during the second half of “Strangest Thing”, which actually promises an improved soundscape. The anthemic yet melancholic guitar riff gets people throwing their fists in the air, and it reflects on the band, who seems to lighten up just a little more, song by song. Once we reach “Red Eyes” off “Lost in the Dream”, the sound finally embraces you the way it’s supposed to, and the way people react to the fantastic hit is an amazing experiences: everyone moves closer together, heading for the front, while the temperature in the already warm venue rises. A gang of teenagers start chanting along to the song’s infectious riff as if it was “Seven Nation Army” during a Football match, and you suddenly get the feeling of experiencing a band at its peak, performance and career-wise.

I could go on about what a shame it is that it took so long for the sound to get proper, but I’d rather focus on the remaining part of the set, which, honestly, is quite spectacular. The band’s 11 minute-long magnum opus “Thinking of a Place” takes you far out of this reality and back again, while the fast-paced “Holding On” gets people’s feet moving. Furthermore, the band is playing better and tighter than I’ve ever seen them: the thundering rhythm-section from the thumping bass over the bouldering drums would have the E-Street Band taking notes, and Granduciel’s beautiful lead-licks over the two rhythm guitars constantly adds something new to the luscious soundscape. All the while, the band is much more charismatic than usually, and it feels like they’ve upped their game, performance-wise and not just musically.

Tonight’s real highlight, however, arrives during “Under the Pressure”, which sees the band jam and improvise like I haven’t seen them do previously: a prolonged, subtle guitar intro gently lures you into tranquility just before the insistent drums kick in and gets you nodding along. The sound is loud and makes up for the entire first half of the set’s missing punch, and as Granduciel’s ravaging solo finishes us off, it’s hard not to think of the likes of Neil Young and his crazy, blistering guitar-excursions. I’m pretty sure that I’m not the only one in my vicinity who gasped out a loud “FUCK!” afterwards.

The main part of the set nicely wraps up with the somber “In Reverse”, just before the band leaves the stage only to come back out a few minutes later. Why they decide to leave us with another two slow songs instead of the fantastic “Eyes to the Wind” is a mystery to me, but I guess you can’t win ‘em all. Tonight, The War on Drugs were challenged by a ruthless venue, but they luckily managed to overcome and play a remarkable second half, which promises some amazing concerts from the band in the future. They played better, performed better and simply just were better, and it’s getting harder and harder to dismiss the rising claim that they’re the greatest American rock band of the current decade. Let’s hope that they’re returning to an open field somewhere nearby!

Setlist:

  • 01. In Chains
  • 02. Baby Missiles
  • 03. Pain
  • 04. An Ocean in Between the Waves
  • 05. Strangest Thing
  • 06. Nothing to Find
  • 07. Knocked Down
  • 08. Buenos Aires Beach
  • 09. Red Eyes
  • 10. Thinking of a Place
  • 11. Holding On
  • 12. Under the Pressure
  • 13. In Reverse

— Encore —

  • 14. Come to the City
  • 15. You Don’t Have to Go

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