October 6th, 2017 | Live reviews

TheWarOnDrugs-1 Photos by Stephanie Port Words by Madison Desler

With its latest album, A Deeper Understanding, The War on Drugs has been critically lauded as the new torchbearer of Heartland Rock, making it no surprise that the band opened its set at The Greek Theatre last night with a tribute to Heartland’s fallen hero. Tom Petty’s “Time To Move On,” with its gentle synth and emotive guitars, is exactly what people are pointing to when they saddle frontman Adam Granduciel and his band with the genre—the cover coming from them so naturally.

Diving in with three killer cuts from the new album, the opening piano of “In Chains” caused two grown men to giggle excitedly like little kids, the false-start that accompanied “Holding On” did nothing to blunt the joy brought by its Springsteen-esque melody and “Born To Run” glockenspiel, and the warm washes of baritone sax and glimmering guitars of “Pain” had the crowd absolutely hypnotized.

With most songs clocking in at six minutes or longer, some may think seeing the band in concert is sure to be a tedious affair. In fact, Granduciel and the boys make minutes feel like seconds, beautifully building up layers of synth and keys over snappy, 80s back-beats. Each song is a journey, a slow climb that subtly picks up steam, sneaking up on you until you realize you’re being knocked off your feet. “An Ocean In Between Waves” and the nine-minute “Under The Pressure” were perfect examples of this, both hitting high points when Granduciel cut loose on his beautiful white guitar, but it was “Nothing To Find” that caused everyone to rise up out of their seats like a wave—an almost involuntary response to the feeling of release that hit when Granduciel really started to burn.


Just like the musicians on stage, the audience is locked-in to the massive, layered soundscape—so well-crafted, such an appealing sound, you never want to get out from under it. Perennial favorite “Red Eyes” swept everyone up so completely with its driving beat and soaring guitars that it could have gone on for half an hour and no one would have blinked.

Granduciel is a gentle presence, a genius in beat-up denim and a flannel shirt—the iconography of his forebears. While he readily winks at the synth-heavy, harmonica-accented American rock that came before him, he’s managed to create something completely new. Atmospheric, sweeping, deeply affecting, it’s a sound that’s difficult to use words to describe. More than hearing it, you’re inside of it. It was the closing song “Clean Living” that drove this home the hardest, its heartbeat rhythm and crystalline piano creating a beautiful dream—the kind you cry when you wake up from because you so badly wanted it to be real.

The show was opened by Phoebe Bridgers, her gentle, introspective, and haunting tracks from new album, Stranger In The Alps, beautifully setting the mood for the evening.

Setlist via

Time to Move On (Tom Petty cover)
In Chains
Holding On
An Ocean in Between the Waves
Strangest Thing
Nothing to Find
Knocked Down
Lost in the Dream
Eyes to the Wind
You Don’t Have to Go
Up All Night
Under the Pressure
Clean Living
Red Eyes
In Reverse