The War On Drugs, Live at the Wonder Ballroom

Regular readers of this site know how much we love the latest album from The War On Drugs, the absolutely superb Lost In The Dream.  It’s one thing for an album to sound great on record, but it is of course no guarantee that the songs will translate live very well.  Considering how much effort the band expended in constructing each song in the studio, there is always the risk that it may be impossible to replicate in a live setting.  The band was very conscious of this possibility (as the linked article shows), and spent weeks figuring out ways to ease the transition.  I can report that it’s clear from Sunday night’s show that the band has nailed the challenge.

It's intentional, and not my crappy photography

Hazy photo matches hazy music

The band gave the audience a clue from the get-go about how committed they were to being faithful to the album by reproducing the mechanical clicking whirr that marks the start of “Under the Pressure”.  After that quick intro, the band launched into the hard-charging opener, and the live energy made a great song even better.  I had predicted that “Baby Missiles” would be a likely show closer, so it threw me when they played it so early in the set, right after the opener.  It took a couple of verses before the sound engineer got the buoyant keyboard part at the right level in the mix, but the crowd didn’t mind this minor problem as they bounced around to the beat.

Songs from Slave Ambient blended in seamlessly with the new material, which was heavily featured throughout the set (the entirety of Lost In The Dream but the instrumental “The Haunting Idle” was played).  Frontman Adam Granduciel also was a fun and engaging presence throughout, and kept it light with the audience even when minor difficulties like a busted string after a particularly raucous solo from “An Ocean In Between The Waves” dulled some of the momentum.  He endeared himself to the crowd by giving a shout-out to The Doug Fir and by informing us that he wishes that everyday was Saturday, except when he was younger the wish was for Thursday, because that was when Seinfeld was on (he then explained he now prefers Saturday again because Seinfeld is on every day (AS IT SHOULD BE)).

The band was in top form, improving on even some of their best songs.  “Eyes To The Wind”, a fantastic mid-tempo folk-rocker, had an added coda that had the entire group locked in a groove as Adam piled on some gorgeous solos above the mix.  “Burning” really rips on the record, but with the added energy of the crowd they’re able to kick it up another notch.

I attempt computer tricks to overcome my crappy photography

Jim James joins the band on stage

As we posted in our roundup yesterday, the band had a special guest for their encore, as Jim James joined the band on a cover of John Lennon’s “Mind Games”.  There had been a couple of hints that we would witness something special, but I’ll admit that when I first saw a roadie that looked like the frontman of The Decemberists setting up an extra microphone, my first thought was “Did Colin Meloy gain some weight and grow a beard?”  I think pseudo-Colin would have been a decent choice, but Jim James was definitely an upgrade.  After the raucous cover, the band finished their encore with some of the more downbeat numbers, a perfect end as Sunday night gradually turned into another Monday morning.


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