The War on Drugs at Mission Ballroom

By: Quinn Jones

I was eating Burger King in an empty Lowe’s parking lot as dusk fell. Earlier that day I had received an email from a close friend. The SoCC had a press pass to see The War On Drugs that very night at the Mission Ballroom. I responded to the email expressing my interest, but I didn’t think I had any chance at the tickets, given that I wasn’t a SoCC reporter. Because I felt that my chances of getting that press pass were slim, I decided I would spend the evening with my sister. Mid-burger, I get an email back from my SoCC liaison: I got the press pass! I wolfed the rest of the meal and set my course for the Mission Ballroom.

The energy in the ballroom was palpable. Hipsters young and old were forced to pack themselves into the cavernous hall. The hype was real, but the band came on stage with little fanfare. Front man Adam Granduciel, dressed in his usual button down and jeans, walked on stage balancing several beverages in his arms as the crowd erupted into applause. After Granduciel was armed with his Fender Stratocaster, the band launched right into “Old Skin” off of 2021’s I Don’t Live Here Anymore, their latest release and the subject of their current tour. As Granduciel strummed, he was joined by synthesizer player Robbie Bennett, playing a soft organ over Granduciel’s delicate chords. The crowd swayed and sang along to the melancholy, aching first verse. Granduciel and Bennett built a massive wall of texture, bringing the energy to its boiling point till drummer Charlie Hall brought in his thundering back beat, launching the song into its anthemic finale.

As they tuned and traded instruments after their first song, people around me talked to each other, predicting what would come next. Someone said “It’s gonna be ‘Pain.’” I hoped that this guy was right; 2017’s “Pain” was something of a pandemic anthem for me. As I waited with bated breath, Granduciel strapped on a beautiful Fender Jazzmaster and began to pick the somber arpeggio that begins “Pain.” The crowd positively burst into shouts of appreciation Apparently, I wasn’t the only fan of the song. The song reflects on how we experience loss and anxiety in conjunction with our own personal growth, or lack thereof. Saxophonist/keyboardist Jon Natchez played a haunting bass motif on his baritone saxophone, ensnaring the audience in the song’s innate gloom.

Image courtesy of FirstRowConcert

To use Granduciel’s lyrics, The War On Drugs exists “in the space between the beauty and the pain.” Though TWOD lyrics ponder the inherent pain and loneliness of the human condition and try to work through various traumas, the band crafts lush instrumentals that can move one to tears with both their tremendous beauty and their agonizing sadness. With their seven members, the band is up to this monumental task. Granduciel is flanked by some of the finest musicians on the scene. On his right, there is guitarist/keyboardist Anthony LaMarca, who adds a great deal of texture with his acoustic guitar. Then there’s bassist David Hartley, a no-frills rhythm player holding down the low end of the band’s infamous jams. Keyboardist/vocalist Eliza Hardy Jones stands on the risers above Granduciel, adding unique textures to the band’s vocal arrangements. In case you haven’t been counting, that’s three keyboardists on stage at the same time. This is how The War On Drugs achieve their infamous wall of sound.

The band fed off the crowd energy. Granduciel bantered with the crowd all night long. He praised the tenacity of the Denver audience, applauding their willingness to put up with the freezing temperatures to see the show. Halfway through the set, an audience member shouted “Play ‘Born in Time!’” Granduciel responded enthusiastically, and the band launched into the impromptu Bob Dylan cover. As the show drew to a close, Granduciel addressed the audience. He said “We’re only going to do three or four more songs. We’re not gonna do that bullshit where we walk off” to great applause. It’s this down-to-earth charm that cements both Granduciel and The War On Drugs as one of the great indie acts of our time. For anyone interested in seeing the band, they will be playing Red Rocks on September 19, 2022.

Watch their performance in Denver of their recent album’s title track song below!

video courtesy of FirstRowConcert

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