Live Music + Gig Reviews

The War On Drugs @ Ritz, Manchester

7 November 2014

The War On Drugs When Bruce Springsteen released Born To Run back in 1975, it was termed his make-or-break record. His first two albums, 1973’s Greetings from Asbury Park, NJ and the shortly following The Wild, The Innocent & The E Street Shuffle were critically but not entirely commercially successful. Springsteen thought Born To Run was his last big shot at commercial success, which the anxiety surrounding completing the album showed: it took about 14 months to record and even then, The Boss initially hated it. Of course, we know what happens next. The power and blunt force of Born To Run contrasted the previous albums and the talent of the so-called future of rock and roll was fully realised.

Aside from also being a fellow New Jersey native there are obvious and, perhaps, less obvious comparisons to be made between Springsteen and The War On Drugs‘ Adam Granduciel. These particularly come to the fore this evening at The Ritz, the crowd a mixture of young hipsters and middle-aged couples. It’s completely sold out. Packed. Granduciel et al were only here back in May as well, playing at the smaller Manchester Academy up the road.

Lost In A Dream is arguably Granduciel’s Born To Run equivalent. The first album post-Kurt Vile‘s departure, he gained the creative freedom but with it all the weight of expectation. He starts, somewhat surprisingly, with Burning, surely something of a mid-to-late set number.

Initially it sounds a little muddy. But from the muddiness and the juddering, shoegazy long guitar intro preceding Charlie Hall’s exquisitely precise drumming, it quickly begins to glow and come alive; Granduciel’s guitar’s riffs and hooks, the bursts of saxophone and the pleading tone within his lyrics are all wonderfully Springsteenesque. The saxophone does lend it an E Street air especially. You wonder whether this is what’s enticed the older contingent here.

Arms Like Boulders, from 2008’s EP Barrel Of Batteries, follows and you immediately notice the contrast: this is less intense, more upbeat, more hopeful in tone. Much like early Springsteen, perhaps. But then Under The Pressure follows and, again, a marked change. Compared to the earlier material, Granduciel manages to create wonderful crescendos that meld the saxophone and David Hartley’s bass together.

This is particularly the case with An Ocean In Between The Waves. Arguably the best – or certainly the most memorable – track from Lost In The Dream, here it’s taken to a new, more powerful level; it becomes about 10 or so minutes long and by the end, like the person in front, you lose yourself. This is incredibly memorable, reaching Springsteenian heights by the end and bringing together the kind of deep, emotional appeals in the lyrics alongside an exhilarating, euphoric frenzy projected in the music. It fairly gives the shakes.

Come To The City and Best Night from 2011’s Slave Ambient follow. But they feel inadequate, almost inert in comparison to the Lost In The Dream tracks. You can sense that with Granduciel as well; he isn’t as animated or as impassioned when playing these. The crowd who, to be fair, have probably mostly been drawn here thanks to Lost In The Dream, react in a similar way, taking it in but a little nonplussed. Perhaps they’ve been spoilt. Still, Red Eye soon changes that, before Eyes To The Wind brings another one of those fine crescendos.

Granduciel will be back in Manchester again in February at what’s becoming a landmark Mancunian venue, Deansgate’s Albert Hall, and it’s to be expected that it’ll be just as busy. Tonight showed that Lost In A Dream is a special record – even more so when it’s heard live. It makes the earlier material redundant. That’s meant in a good way, mind. You can’t beat progress.

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