Gig Review by Chloe Gynne with Photography by Jeremy Carron

There are hoards of people, all dressed in some iteration of the indie rock uniform- black drainpipes, long, black coats, curly, unkempt hair- making a pilgrimage to Ally Pally for tonight’s show.

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The War On Drugs have managed to fill the large venue to capacity, thanks to their stellar album ‘A Deeper Understanding’, released earlier this year. But as the support takes to the stage, most of the punters remain inside the extensive food hall, both impressive and distracting. They miss out on The Barr Brothers, who play some pleasantly autumnal folk-rock to a relatively small crowd.

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As the first chimes of Adam Granduciel’s guitar ring out across the room, the post-work parties begin to flood the space. They just about make it in time to applause opener ‘In Chains’, a slow start from a band who can, at times, pack much more of a punch than this.

They’re more responsive to the energetic corners of the setlist. Recent single ‘Holding On’ sees the crowd nodding their heads vigorously- the closest this scene gets to dancing. ‘An Ocean In Between The Waves’ is equally joyous, its layers upon layers of sound reaching the rooftop of this grand venue.

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The most we get from Granduciel tonight is a muted “thanks”, and the occasional affirmation that he’s “psyched to be here”. He doesn’t show it, though, hiding behind his hair as he swings from song to song. It’s not necessarily a bad thing; his cyclical riffs and the band’s relentless rhythm create a pleasant drone to tune out to.

But the moments that make the night memorable are the ones that seem more personal. Particular songs seem to evoke memories in the crowd- couples close their eyes together as ‘Red Eyes’ washes over, reflective and jubilant. For this writer, it’s ‘Baby Missiles’, that causes that heart swelling rush of nostalgia.

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And that’s what’s great about The War On Drugs. As they play that song, shuttling forward with it at great speed, I’m transported back to a day in May that I spent listening to that song alone on Coney Island, feeling invincible. It’s enough to make me forget that it is, in fact, a freezing day in London in November, and that the crowd around me are making small talk about their weekend plans. This band, with their sound so suited to long journeys, to being away from home, to being in transit, are the soundtrack to our sentiment.

But that’s also what stops much present energy from flowing. That, combined with Granduciel’s indifference to the crowd and the band’s rigid imitation of the studio versions of these songs, prevents any special moments from being created in the here and now. That’s a shame, but they offer so much in terms of musicianship, that it’s easy to forgive them.

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One Response to “The War On Drugs at Alexandra Palace, London, UK – 14th November 2017”

  1. Gig Junkies » Blog Archive » The War On Drugs at The O2 Arena, London, UK – 13th December 2018 Says:

    […] is that the passion in their performance, the way they have altered how they play songs even from last year’s Alexandra Palace set, proves we don’t need to get too nostalgic yet- we’ve still got a long way […]

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