LIVE REVIEW: The War On Drugs, O2 Academy, Newcastle

The War On Drugs pulled a good crowd at the O2 Academy, just a week after appearing there at the 6 Music Festival.
The War On Drugs pulled a good crowd at the O2 Academy, just a week after appearing there at the 6 Music Festival.

UNTIL very recently, The War on Drugs’ first Newcastle headline show hadn’t ranked among my list of live priorities.

This had nothing to do with the quality of Adam Granduciel and co’s halcyon Americana - on the contrary, they’ve made some of my favourite records of recent years - but rather its breezy, placid nature, which I couldn’t imagine translating on stage before a sizable crowd.

The new record provided moments of pure, breathtaking euphoria.

Those preconceptions were, however, shattered when the Philadelphia six-piece kick-started proceedings at the BBC 6 Music Festival.

Instilled with a rousing rock ‘n’ roll vigour, it was a show which spectacularly exceeded any expectations I had for their live show, and stoked anticipation for their return to the same venue a week later.

It seems I wasn’t alone, as despite an early start and decidedly muted support slot from New Yorkers Amen Dunes, the main room was more or less full by the time Granduciel’s men arrived onstage.

It’s an impressive feat for a group who’ve only recently established themselves, and even with the venue’s 10pm curfew, Friday’s appearance was a big upgrade on the previous week’s miserly half-hour slot.

For one, it gave them the chance to delve into their back catalogue, with 2011’s fantastic Slave Ambient providing the likes of Come To The City and It’s Your Destiny, and Arms Like Boulders representing 2008 debut Wagonwheel Blues.

Both of those records are somewhat overlooked these days thanks to Lost In The Dream, an LP almost unanimously hailed among the finest of last year.

And tonight, its status as a modern classic was underlined by the fact they aired all but one of its 10 tracks, with each dazzling in its own merits.

There were times - such as the serene In Reverse and tranquil title track - where they had a rather subdued effect, yet this felt strangely appropriate, like a perfect unwind after a tough working week.

However, far from one-dimensional, the new record also provided moments of pure, breathtaking euphoria.

These ranged from blissful scene-setting bridge of Under The Pressure - a bold note on which to open - to the thrilling An Ocean In Between The Waves.

They were numbers which proved invigorating while retaining the blissful, almost ambient sound that’s become their signature.

What’s more, these expansive cuts found Granduciel pursuing the role of virtuoso mainman, drenching his chimes in wondrous swathes of reverb and launching into solos whose unabashed indulgence enhanced the widescreen aesthetic.

It all made for a joyous, accomplished live spectacle, and while they’d blown their wow factor the previous week, this was nevertheless a performance of soothing, immersive and invigorating quality.