Album Review — The War on Drugs’ ‘LIVE DRUGS’

In the latest edition of the The Endless Music Odyssey, I covered a great live album from Cody Jinks. But it wasn’t quite a perfect live album as I lamented. It simply put lacked “it.” I’ll touch on that in a second.

There are many artists and bands I have yet to see live in concert. After all, there’s only so much time and money and tours can’t hit every city. So you do your best to hit as many as you can. One band that’s near the top of my bucket list is The War on Drugs. They are one of my favorite modern rock groups, as there’s a relaxing feel about their music that is instantly compelling to my ears. I remember the first time I listened to them on Lost in the Dream that this was a band I would be listening to for a while. That album proved to be one of my favorites of the 2010s and their last album A Deeper Understand was pretty damn good too. Their music has a surrealistic quality about it, in both sound and in the lyrics. It creates a sort of snow globe effect when you listen to it. Yet it feels like it goes to an even higher level when heard in the live setting.

Before we dive into the actual album, I want to point out something about live music. There’s a special, magical quality about it that’s hard to put into words. Anyone who’s been to a great concert knows what I’m talking about: you basically feel like you enter another world for a couple hours. You become engulfed by the music. Your eyes and ears are glued to that stage and you forget about everything that was happening before the show. It’s a relaxing escapism. Even someone like myself who thankfully has a great, happy life and is quite content with where I’m at, I find great comfort in the ability to explore another world essentially. I think that goes beyond escapism: it’s that innate human yearning for discovery beyond your horizons. That is what music truly is. It’s the ability to see and experience beyond your own experiences and wisdom, yet finding a way to tie it into them all the same.

This new live album from The War on Drugs taps into that magic of live music. These are songs I’ve all heard before, yet it feels like the first time I’ve heard them with this album. You see concerts where the artist does a different take on their music makes for the best shows. They experiment with them and therefore they have a completely different feel. That’s what The War on Drugs do on LIVE DRUGS. They play a little looser in the bridge and outro on “Strangest Thing,” letting that soaring melody breathe and completely capture your attention. They linger over “Red Eyes” a little bit longer and lead singer Adam Granduciel let’s his passion get carried away. Little things like this make a live performance stand out.

On “Eyes to the Wind,” you get to hear Granduciel introduce the band, which is always a nice moment in the show where you get to know the names behind the faces who are delivering this great show. This gives way to a hauntingly beautiful piano-driven intro. The crowd is so quiet and clearly mesmerized; you could hear a pin drop. Everybody in that moment is sharing the same feeling. Later there’s a kickass saxophone solo that really puts an exclamation on the performance.

This whole album is a special listen, but the 12-minute performance of “Under the Pressure” is my favorite moment. The band stretches out and milks every bit of the song they can, sort of putting a drawn-out hypnotism over the listener. It starts with the introduction, which wanders on and on before finally giving way to the song. This creates a swelling effect, a great buildup of anticipation as you the listener wonder when the song will begin. Then later in the song when the band is jamming out, you can hear the crowd and feel the ambience of it. Listening with headphones on and your eyes closed, for a second you think you’re at the show. You know that magic ability to suck you into a whole other world? Well this song and performance exemplifies this.

One of the biggest things I miss in the midst of this ongoing pandemic is live music. There’s simply nothing like it. It’s coming up on a year since I went to my last show, but it feels even longer. One day though it will return and after this pandemic experience, I know now I will have an even deeper and greater appreciation for the power of live music. The War on Drugs capture that power on LIVE DRUGS and make me more excited to one day be back in that crowd of people, singing along and basking in the joy of an awesome concert.

Buy It