The War On Drugs live in London: a big-hearted, loosely spun rock’n’roll night out

The O2 Arena, London, April 12: spotty attendance seems to relax a dedicated crowd eager for face-melting guitar solos and ‘80s-indebted power ballads

Bruce Springsteen hasn’t toured in the UK for six years now, but the past few weeks’ live agenda have provided two ample replacements. In one corner, you have Sam Fender’s recent arena run, where he tapped into The Boss’ bullish underdog spirit and ruminated on tales of the grit and grind in a working-class town; they don’t call him the Geordie Springsteen for nothing. And then there’s The War On Drugs, the US rock behemoth lead by Adam Granduciel, whose latest album ‘I Don’t Live Here Anymore’ ruminates on the father-son relationship, all set to sprawling Americana. Granduciel’s infant son is literally named Bruce.

Beyond placating Springsteen fans, the project has neatly carved out its own fascinating lane with every element of their sharp, maximalist rock in perfect equilibrium; it’s arty and considered enough for chin-strokers, but never too proud to whack in a face-melting guitar solo just for fun. It’s this latter energy that seems to win over the sparse, but attentive and giddy fans at The O2 Arena this evening (April 12). In fact, when Granduciel goes full-on guitar hero during ‘I Don’t Wanna Wait’, scores of plaid-shirt wearing father-son duos leap to their feet to salute with well-timed fist-pumps and air-guitar shredding.

Swathes of empty seats at an arena gig would usually put a dampener on proceedings, but tonight it appears to release tension somehow; it feels like there’s unspoken recognition that those outside the venue are seriously missing out. ‘Red Eyes’ and ‘Under The Pressure’ are stretched out and extended to their limits, but everyone in the room is totally locked-in as the band’s motorik, techno-like grooves provide a hypnotic element. The tender moments, too, are immaculately realised and appreciated. ‘Rings Around My Fathers Eyes’ rises as gracefully as the “light above the morning sea” that Granduciel purrs about, while he prefaces ‘Come To The City’s bluesy-groove by reminiscing about playing it in a “sweaty Corsica Studios” in south London over a decade ago. It fills both rooms nicely.

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The spectre of his heroes loom large over the night – a Neil Young cover closes proceedings, and he briefly chucks in a niche Bob Dylan one (‘Born In Time’) towards the end – but the sheer bombast he conjures with two recent hits, ‘Harmonia’s Dream’ and ‘I Don’t Live Here Anymore’, offers a flavour distinctly his own: bolshy, fun and ambitious. It’s never easy to balance a nod to the past with something distinctly modern, but few do it as efficiently, and with as big a heart, as Granduciel.

The War On Drugs perform at Verti Music Hall Berlin on December 10, 2018 in Berlin, Germany. Credit: Getty

The War On Drugs played:

‘Old Skin’

‘Pain’

‘An Ocean in Between the Waves’

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‘I Don’t Wanna Wait’

‘Victim’

‘Strangest Thing’

‘Red Eyes’

‘Living Proof’

‘Harmonia’s Dream’

‘Come to the City’

‘Rings Around My Father’s Eyes’

‘Under the Pressure’

‘I Don’t Live Here Anymore’

‘Occasional Rain’

‘Thinking of a Place’

‘Lost in the Dream’

‘Like a Hurricane’ (Neil Young cover)

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