Reviews

The War On Drugs’ LIVE DRUGS: A Masterclass On Studio-To-Stage Versatility

Harmonious with their routine three year album cycle, Grammy Award winning dream-core sextet The War On Drugs have released their first live album, LIVE DRUGS. An album fittingly titled in caps lock, is composed of live show records from the group’s personal archive. In a period in history that is starving for live gigs, LIVE DRUGS is an excellent glimpse of the euphoria concert goers are missing right now.

The band’s highest selling album, Lost In The Dream clocks in with five tracks on LIVE DRUGS, and their Grammy Award winner, A Deeper Understanding gets three. LIVE DRUGS also calls on the band’s debut album, Wagonwheel Blues for a fan favorite in “Buenos Aires Beach.” Rounding things out is a terrific cover of a little-known Warren Zevon track called “Accidentally Like A Martyr”, which the band released as a Spotify Single along with a live rendition of “Holding On” in 2017. The band’s sophomore record Slave Ambient is the only full length release that failed to grace LIVE DRUGS.

What many live albums lack is incorporation of crowd noise. Depending on how the live performance is recorded, audio engineers have the ability to boost or remove particular elements of the mix. The co-producers of the record, bandleader Adam Granduciel and Dominic East – the former’s guitar technician and longtime stage manager for the band, hit it out of the park on LIVE DRUGS. Like any good recipe, audience reaction is used a perfect amount. Granduciel’s signature end-of-song guitar droning is ubiquitous. On par with their live shows, the spacing between songs is also a point of strength – about 17 seconds on average. Everything about the record feels authentic. Granduciel is one of two remaining members of The War On Drugs who have been on board through the band’s entire lifetime, along with bassist David Hartley.

Another subtle strength of the record is the tasteful amount of verbal communication with those on and off stage. At the top of Wagonwheel Blues’ lone representative, “Buenos Aires Beach,” Granduciel thanks his co-producer Dominic East, for what we can only assume is a new guitar for the upcoming song. A nice touch that was left in for likely more than just the authenticity, but also as an homage to the man who, as the album’s press release called him, “the presence Granduciel credits as holding everything together…” Track 8, “Eyes To The Wind” features Granduciel introducing the band, which boosts authenticity considerably.

I would be remiss to not also mention their performance. They are the type of band that clearly prides themselves on consistency and quality on stage. The level of delivery across all ten tracks, spanning years of touring is astounding – as if all of the records are from a single show. Granduciel’s voice morphs to fit the mold each song dictates. From the rasp brought on by a smoky bar room just before last call to husky-but-smooth tones fit for thundering arena-style anthems, he does incredible justice to the oft-esoteric lyrics.

Said Granduciel of LIVE DRUGS: “It puts a nice exclamation point on our touring because we’ve memorialized the performances in a way. It feels like it’s kind of a reset, to be able to put something out that’s a really good interpretation of the way we interpret our music live. There’s something cathartic about having all of it printed on a record. Even though this recording is from a year of tours, this is really how these six guys evolved as a band from 2014 to 2019.”

Promotionally, the band released a podcast series on the Monday following the album, divulging on the decision making while building LIVE DRUGS, as well as stories from behind the scenes at their live shows. The podcast is named after Granduciel’s own record label, which LIVE DRUGS was released under, Super High Quality Records. In episode one, which is produced by East, the group discusses Eyes To The Wind, track number eight on LIVE DRUGS, for twenty-six and a half minutes. Band members discuss the specific performance that made the record, which occurred in Copenhagen, Denmark in November of 2017. We learn the track was played during the encore of their second show in the city at TAP1, a venue in a building that used to house a distillery. Of performing as a band, one member calls it “just like, six guys having a blast.”

Featured Photo: Matthias Heschl, via Super High Quality Records