War On Drugs


No, not the ill-considered government policy, but rather the band from Philly, back for their second sold out gig at Manchester’s gorgeous Albert Hall. (And who needs that pale London imitation, right? Our Albert Hall bleeds royal blood.)

If the support seem a bit, well, shit – kind of a sober psychedelia – the venue itself is still a total knock out…. how could this space have lain unused for so long, right in the middle of our city? People stand silhouetted against gothic windows; columns hold the place together, along with Christian crosses and iron rivets; paint peels from the ceiling. The place seems frayed and casual, the kind of architectural shabby chic aesthetic Shoreditch twats spend millions to approximate. It’s a beautiful venue, already an invaluable addition to Manchester’s nocturnal landscape.

I take up position.   And it’s a good and comfy one, one elbow on the bar to the back of the room, great view of the stage, through an eclectic crowd of ages and persuasions. The band take up their own positions in front of the impressive organ pipes that remind the room of the musical memory fog that filled the space through the years. It’s an interesting set up on stage: basic drum array, three keyboards and a hotchpotch of amps, a real mix of brands and eras, and multi-instrumentalists that switch between sax, trumpet, keys and strings.

Front man Adam Granduciel is similarly a 6-string tart like about his guitars – switching with casual elan between a Les Paul, white Strat and what looks like a Fender Jazzmaster. Dark shirt, clean shaven, turned up jeans and full of “wohs” yelped to the crowd, the band launch the first salvo in their evening war, the first track in a set comprised of songs from their earlier records, but principally last year’s gorgeous Lost In A Dream. That album was a Christmas present from my brother, on vinyl, and has been on high rotation (if at a steady 33 1/3) ever since. Our kid’s catching the band at the Brixton Academy and if it’s anything like the Manchester show, he’s in for a treat.

Where to place them? Musically they hit all sorts of references. Springsteen is an obvious one, in the lyrical concern for being out on the street, in the (admittedly not very good) harmonica playing. There’s a bit of Dylan, for sure, in the nasel-y vocal delivery (at one point Granduciel acknowledges the proximity of the Free Trade Hall, site of the Dylan’s famous “Judas” moment… so no, don’t let the revisionists tell you that happened in London either). For some reason they remind me of the more grandiose aspects of the 1980s – U2, Simple Minds – like the guitar is about to launch into the themes from Local Hero at any moment. In the elastic space given to extended instrumental sections they suggest Floyd. Some tracks really remind me of the Australian singer Paul Kelly. It’s hard to pin them down – this is a band that can somehow shake sonic hands with country, folk, indie and ambient, all at the same time. And that’s a hard move to make without doing yourself an injury.

Tonight they start with ‘Burning’ and move steadily through their recent repertoire, soon hitting on ‘Under The Pressure’, the cut that opens the last album. Emotion builds through each track, songs build and then erupt with a “whoop” then collapse in as Granduciel indulges in noodly guitar work that descends then ascends the fretboard, sweeps and curves around the high-ceilinged space of the Albert Hall (and just how many holes does it take, one wonders?) Certainly these great, haunting acoustics suit the spacey sounds of the band, suit their interest in sounds and textures. Granduciel’s guitar shimmers and echoes over the band’s low-slung music, rolling through new tracks like ‘An Ocean Between The Waves’, ‘Eyes To The Wind’ and the titular ‘Lost In The Dream’. There’s even space for a cover of Jethro Tull’s ‘Rosa On The Factory Floor’.

Throughout, Granduciel’s silhouette is thrown against the imposing wall of the hall, his overdriven guitar powering through instrumental sections, or else the slow, languid outros that some songs fold into. His voice is alone – no harmonies from anyone else in the band – and carries across the room like Native American chanting. In rare between-song chats he names checks Elbow; in another he dedicates a song his dad, in the audience.

People start to drift out as the band comes back for their five-track encore. I presume there are trains to catch although from a dedicated journalist perspective I decide to miss my last train and lap up every second of the show. In fact, seizing an opportunity I walk up the stairs to take in the last few tracks from a seated position in the gallery, as the band wrap up with ‘Disappearing’. From here the room seems to cuddle the band. From here I notice Granduciel has spent the whole gig standing on an ornately patterned mat; conducting, one presumes, his own personal war on Persian rugs.

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Simon is a writer, broadcaster and countercultural investigator. Over the last 15 years he has written for everyone from The Guardian to Loaded magazine, presented television for Rapture TV and hosted radio programs for the likes of Galaxy. He has also found time to earn a Masters Degree in Novel Writing and write three books (a collection of journalism, a guidebook to Ibiza and one on financial planning for young people – the most varied publishing career it’s possible to have) and establish and run a PR company, Pad Communications, looking after a range of leisure and lifestyle clients.He currently splits his time between researching his PhD at Leeds University, looking into various countercultural movements; consulting freelance for PR clients; writing for the likes of Marie Claire in Australia, The Big Issue and the Manchester Evening News, where he reviews concerts, theatre and is their Pub & Bar Editor. He is also broadcaster, appearing regularly on Tony Livesey’s late night 5Live show for the BBC, and also for BBC Radio Manchester Gourmet Night food and drink show.Simon’s main focus has been music and travel. His career has included editing Ministry of Sound’s magazine in Ibiza for two summers and also writing two long-running columns for DJmagazine – ”Around The World in 80 Clubs” (which took him everywhere from Beijing to Brazil, Moscow to Marrakech) and “Dispatches From The Wrong Side”. A collection of the latter was published in the UK and US as the book Discombobulated, including tales as varied as gatecrashing Kylie Minogue’s birthday party, getting deported from Russia, having a gun held to his head by celebrity gangster Dave Courtney and going raving in Ibiza with Judith Chalmers. He has recently written for the likes of Red magazine, Hotline, Clash, Tilllate, Shortlist and the Manchester Evening News. Pad Communications has recently consulted for clients as varied as Manchester nightclubs and New Zealand toy companies.On a personal note, Simon is a Londoner who left the capital at the age of 18 and never looked back. He sees himself as a citizen of the global dancefloor having lived in Sydney, Los Angeles, Ibiza and Amsterdam. However his life is now rather more sedentary. After all his adventures he bumped into and subsequently married his highschool sweetheart from their North London Grammar. They now live in Stockport with their four children and four chickens, trying to live the good life. Simon recently turned 40 and is steadfastly refusing to have a midlife crisis – as in, growing a ponytail and buying a shiny red sports car.OK, maybe he’ll buy the sports car…