Updated: Sunday, 5th April 2020 @ 10:41am

Gig review: The War on Drugs @ The Ritz, Manchester

Gig review: The War on Drugs @ The Ritz, Manchester

| By David Keane

The War on Drugs may have spent the last nine years as that band with the odd name that you’ve never got round to listening to. Those guys you spot listed as the opener at festivals that you don’t arrive in time to catch but you’re told they’re very good.

That all might be about to change.

Relentless touring will see them in town three times in a year (they were last in Manchester in March and they’re back again in February) and a spot on Jools Holland this week will no doubt ensure that ‘The War on Drugs’ could soon mean more to you than the inexorable belligerence of Western governments in their attitudes towards various chemicals.

After all, the band’s gig at The Ritz last night was sold out long in advance.

The pulsating Burning has the Springsteen-like driving beat to be the perfect opener, complete with jangling keys and Dancing in the Dark-esque ‘whoops’.

As soon as the last few notes rang out then it was straight into one of the few examples of older material – Arms like Boulders from their debut Wagonwheel Blues.

From here it was back to cuts from their latest effort, Lost in the Dream, with only the odd smattering to show anything had come before it. But no one looked to be complaining – their third album is one of those rare, relentless works of art that boasts not a single weak track.

Frontman Adam Granducial was plucking the first few distinctive notes of Under the Pressure as the warped clicking that makes the track so distinctive began reverberating around the venue like the wing beat of some giant bug.

The song oozed cool and showcased how the band manage to effortlessly straddle multiple eras at once, it dripped with ethereal ‘80s’ keyboards and sax, while Granducial’s warbling voice sounded straight off a 1960s’ Dylan LP.

The blissful In Reverse treaded further into Dylan territory with its amiable harmonica solo, as the band then brought the tempo back up with the energetic Ocean Between the Waves.

Granducial, clearly a pedant for the perfect sound, was backed by no fewer than five different guitar amps. He switched and swapped his way between all five plus three guitars, as he meticulously sought to recreate the precise timbre of every track.

It was a masterful display of attention to detail.

Slave Ambient’s opener Best Night is arguably the track that most closely reveals The War on Drugs birth as a band – having spawned from an evening of Granducial and former member Kurt Vile ‘geeking out’ over Bob Dylan.

The jangling guitar that sees out the remaining couple of minutes of the song is so loose and uninhibited that had it been played by anyone less adept on the guitar it would come across as nothing short of an oodling mess. Instead, it floats along in its own inimitable way before collapsing in on itself. Live, the audience hung on every note.

Red Eyes and Eyes to the Wind closed out the gig, before the band re-emerged for an encore of Lost in the Dream’s title track and Your Love is Calling My Name.

The band are back in Manchester at the bigger venue of the Albert Hall in February. It might be wise to get your tickets now, as if they keep delivering shows like this then there’s no telling where they could end up selling out. Arena here they come.

Image courtesy of Mire Schemeikka, with thanks.