The War on Drugs


“I know what it is, and I ride it out,” speaks Adam Granduciel, who records as The War on Drugs, of the slow-exploding anxiety that eventually led an already obsessive relationship with sound into an all-consuming crutch. Spear-headed by self-masochism, Granduciel’s wide-scope vision avoids preying on nostalgia – shamelessly pulling the past into the present, and aims not to simply recreate the sprawling grandeur of Reagan-era Americana, but to reinvent – reaching for things that can’t be measured or possessed, and trying to climb inside. “I want to find what can’t be found,” sings Granduciel with bruised optimism on the tightly-woven, emotional juggernaut ‘Pain’, and tonight a flood of audience has filled Manchester’s Apollo to witness the search.

‘Nothing to Find’ sees Granduciel pinned to harsh memory – wrestling with the ghosts that populate A Deeper Understanding, before ‘Knocked Down’s sobering strength dispels fog – clearing a path for the dream-drain of ‘Thinking of a Place’ to empty an ocean over the evening. Projections of heat-hazed figures waltz slow-motion from sunlight-pulling prisms into shades of cerulean, but sensory distractions do little to douse the inescapable feeling that you’re witnessing a staged race lacking true thunder.

Where Granduciel’s spiritual peers source the connecting humanity of their music from the everyday – smothering universal sighs with hopeful promises of tomorrow, Granduciel’s sound-world chews on the bones of shame and anguish. However, it’s clear in the disconnected delivery of the darkness-foreboding Lost in the Dream-cut ‘Red Eyes’, a song pieced together in a death-fearing haze, that the intensity that once charged the Philadelphian sextet’s second chapter is struggling to survive.

Although the motoric tidal surge of ‘Under the Pressure’ serves to highlight the band’s surgical precision, the near-15-minute performance demonstrates that there’s only so far a feeling can stretch – shedding light on Granduciel’s now-unconvincing war with a fear he doesn’t quite believe in anymore. ‘Thinking of a Place’s sincere delivery and river-gazing introspection suggests that Grandunciel is no longer standing “in the wake of pain”, but wishes to be drowned in water and led to the light – shedding anxiety-scarred skin and “moving through the dark”, but if any of Granduciel’s words capture the air of the evening – mourning what might have been lost to creative mania and agoraphobic epochs, it’s those that are absent: “All this living, and no life.”

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James Musker

Music Journalism student and lover of all things sensory and cosmic.