Review by Chloe Gynne with Photography by Cath Dupuy

The War On Drugs’ latest album, ‘A Deeper Understanding’, was released in the summer of 2017. Since then, we’ve welcomed the band to London on three occasions: first at Ally Pally last November, then a mammoth show with The National for All Points East this summer, and now at the o2 Arena.

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They’re a difficult act to define. With each album release comes a new wave of support, even more critical acclaim, and yet they’re not exactly household names. Despite their expansive sound, they still cling to some sort of ‘indie’ status. They haven’t sold out. That’s why, at first, the o2 seems an odd choice, especially considering they’ve already done two sizeable shows in the capital over the last year. Before they take to the stage, many question whether they’ll pull it off.

They needn’t have worried; within the first few bars of ‘Holding On’, Adam Granduciel manages to make the o2 seem small, if anything. He looks entirely comfortable on this large stage, smiling as he sings. The crowd, while never high-energy tonight, clearly revel in this faster-paced song; the band keep up the pace with ‘Baby Missiles’, a highlight of the night.

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As the band relax into the set and pull out one slow, long song after another, the crowd is somewhat split. Those close enough to actually see the stage zone out, just as Granduciel intended, but those by the bars at the back see it as an opportunity for conversation. But it’s not necessarily the band’s setlist that’s the issue: for a few songs, the reverb is ear-piercingly painful and even those standing by the sweet spot- next to the sound desk- struggle to hear the intricacies of the guitar work, or the subtlety of the much-too-loud bass.

Thankfully, all issues are resolved as the band edge towards the end of the show. ‘Under The Pressure’ closes off the main set, beautifully soft and warm- needed tonight in a chilly arena. There are no conversations during this song, the most potent example of the formula Granduciel has created. This song- already nearly 9 minutes on record- is dragged out, tension building as the band slowly eke out a captivating drone. When they finally release that delightful rhythm, those seated seem to impulsively jump from their seats, fists in the air.

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They’re sharing the band’s joy. Smiles are shared at the end of the song; they’ve performed it countless times since its 2014 release, but even they know that moment was particularly special. The encore serves as a comedown of sorts, slowly chugging through ‘In Chains’, until they surprise fans with ‘Come To The City’ from 2011’s ‘Slave Ambient’. Its drums clatter around the arena like a jubilant fist to the air.

Yes, the o2 Arena was an odd choice. It takes a special band to be able to fill the o2 arena on their third visit to the city in a year, but it becomes clear how they’ve managed this: they’re exempt from the album-tour-album cycle most bands get lost in. Their albums, like those classics we spend a lifetime relishing, sit with the listener. They go beyond end-of-year lists, beyond one-listen reviews. Tonight feels like a celebration of that fact; they could stop releasing records today, and they’d still sell out large venues. They are, perhaps, the first classic rock band to break out in the last two decades. But what’s exciting, truly exciting, 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 to go with The War On Drugs.

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See the complete photoset from tonight’s gig here.

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