The War on Drugs gives Altar Bar some Rock ‘n’ Roll


By Jack Trainor / Staff Writer

While waiting concert-goers stood in line outside the Altar Bar on Saturday, a man stopped his car in the middle of the road and asked the crowd who this band, The War on Drugs, was and if they were any good. “Really good,” someone answered. “It’s rock ‘n’ roll!” 

Rising Philadelphia band The War on Drugs performed at the Altar Bar on Saturday. The four pieceband, which quietly released its debut album Wagonwheel Blues in 2008 , is perhaps the indie world’s best kept secret, but for how long? Earning a second consecutive “Best New Music” badge from Pitchfork Media for their third full-length release, this year’s Lost In The Dream, the band is set to attract attention in the near future.

Despite its name, which recalls the moralist paranoia of the Reagan administration, The War on Drugs’ fluid synth rock brings a whole new feeling to those words. For starters, frontman Adam Granduciel — not to be confused with friend and ex-band mate Kurt Vile (who’s eerily similar appearances and approaches to music can sometimes cause a mix-up)  — is a genuine rock star. On Saturday evening, his long, wavy hair hung past his shoulders, and he sported a denim vest with ripped, faded jeans. 

When Granduciel and company climbed on stage following their excellent fellow synth-rock band White Laces, Granduciel’s drooping eyes and mild 5 o’clock shadow buried beneath his mop of hair made him appear at least five years older than his band mates. But that didn’t stop him from putting on an electric and youthful show in front of a lively crowd.

Feeding off his professional concentration, he and the other band members followed the mellow opening song “Burning” by jumping into a powerfully confident and energetic performance of Lost In The Dream standout single “Red Eyes.”  

Crooning in his dusty Bob-Dylan-like wheeze, Granduciel dug deep for every word, immersing himself in the music. His eyes remained shut or hidden behind a wave of hair that bobbed with every drum beat as his knees buckled and grooved. Often, he would let out a wild yelp or whoop before staggering back away from the microphone to unleash a minute-long guitar jam. 

The show’s lengthy set list of about 15 songs was mostly from Lost In The Dream, with extra liberties taken for guitar solos and extended synth openers, so when the encore rolled around, it felt more like a midway intermission.  

Even when audience members started teetering back and forth on their sore feet, Granduciel showed no signs of wear. Before the encore, he looked back at his drummer Patrick Berkery, who was standing up and stretching.

“What, you guys tired or something?” he joked. “C’mon!”

Suddenly, Granduciel appeared 10 years younger than he was a half hour ago.

While The War on Drugs is certainly on its way to stardom, it’s not there yet. In an attempt to set up lesser known song “Comin’ Through” as part of the encore, Granduciel asked the audience something inaudible except for “comin’ through?” The audience responded with a confused hush.

“Just say yes,” he mumbled as he began the shimmering strums to open the song, which elicited the cheers and slow head bobs Granduciel was searching for. 

Despite that minor blunder, audience members shouted song names to the rockers throughout the set. One of them, “Black Waterfalls,” the send-off track to 2011’s Slave Ambient, was granted as the concluding song of the night. As the last chord faded out, Granduciel ended the show as he did every song, with a quick, cheerful “thank you” and an added wave, promising to return soon.

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