Wide awake
I rearrange the way I listen in the dark
Dreaming of starting up again

Perhaps because I go to so few concerts, I approach them with a sense of trepidation. Will the singer be in good vocal form tonight? Will a mercurial band member be in a bad place and bring the whole group’s energy down? Will the sound be bad? Will the crowd suck, and the band not push forward because of the lack of energy and love coming toward them?

So when I catch a band on a night when nearly everything is perfect, it feels like a moment of pure, magical joy.

That’s how I felt Friday evening watching The War On Drugs.

From the moment the band stepped on stage, you could tell that they are in that magical[1] place where everything has come together for them. They’ve been touring for well over a year, and are locked in as well as can be. They’ve appeared in big festivals and in small clubs. They’ve been on Letterman, Conan, Kimmel, and Ellen. They’ve received loads of adulation from the press and fans alike. Their confidence has never been higher. When they roared into “Arms Like Boulders” to open the show, any fears I had of a disappointing even sailed away.

Man, were they on fire. I don’t know if lead singer/guitarist Adam Granduciel was angry or just loaded with energy, but he absolutely shredded every guitar solo through the 15-song set. Even slower, more contemplative songs got extended, loud solos.

But there was no negative energy coming from Granduciel. He warmly greeted the crowd when he took the stage, saying he had had “many, many good nights in Indiana.” Late in the show, he dedicated “Eyes To The Wind” to “our friends in Bloomington,” home of Secretly Canadian records, the label that launched the band and held their contract until a week ago, when Atlantic Records snapped them up.

It felt like a night where he was saying both goodbye and thank you to the Secretly Canadian folks, and was sparing no effort to show how far he and his band had come since their first album back in 2008.

The crowd was fantastic. The Indianapolis Star said the show was sold out. I don’t know about that, but The Vogue was the most packed I’ve ever seen it.[2] I expected the club to be filled with white guys between 35 and 50. And there were a lot of us. But there were also a lot of kids in their 20s and plenty of women who were singing along to the band’s most well-known songs. There were roars from the folks up front when a familiar opening riff rippled out from the amps. Fists were thrown into the air during particularly powerful lyrics. And each massive, sweaty, song-closing solo was greeted with load shouts of approval.

The best songs of the night were simply sublime. “Burning” was as glorious and emancipating as it sounds on Lost In The Dream. “An Ocean In Between The Waves” turned into a nearly 10-minute jam that threatened to blow the roof off the joint.[3] “In Reverse,” is live as it is on the album: perfect.

There was only one disappointment on the night. I had hoped the band would play “Brothers,” a fantastic track from their 2011 album Slave Ambient. I had checked online set lists sites and did not see that they had been playing it this year. So I was thrilled when Granduciel strummed the opening riffs. However, the beautiful, hazy, meandering, folksy sound of the album version did not translate well to the stage. I don’t know if they were rusty at it, or if the depth of the album version is a product of multi-tracking and layering that simply can’t be repeated live.

Oh, and I was annoyed by some people around me who stood around and talked during every song. First off, I can’t hear anyone next to me talking while at a concert. I don’t know how they can carry on a conversation. Second, I’m not dropping $25 on a ticket so I can stand around and talk about how shitty my work week was for 90 minutes.

Concerts, when at their finest, are acts of communion. People gather from afar to worship the mysteries of music together. I know this sounds weird, but despite being nearly 44-years-old, I felt like one of those disaffected teenagers who discovers music that speaks to him and is amazed that there are others who appreciate it as well. Despite reading the flood of positive press for TWOD over the past year, I’ve only heard their songs on local radio here once or twice in that span. So it was a surprise to watch them play along with nearly a thousand other people, most of whom also knew the words and melodies and DNA of each song. I stood in my spot well back in the theater, with a clear view of the stage, and soaked it all in. Most of the time I think I had a big grin on my face. Not just because the music and energy were great, but because I realized I was not alone in my love for TWOD. I didn’t high five any strangers or stay after the show to trade stories of favorite songs or other bands I like with people I had just met. But I did take great pleasure in knowing there are a lot of other people out there who have been affected by The War On Drugs music as much as I have.

There are only a handful of bands I’m interested in seeing live anymore. And many of them are bands that tend to skip over Indianapolis and hit Louisville, Cincinnati, or Columbus on their way to Chicago. The War On Drugs squeezed in their Indy show the night before their Bonnaroo set, likely as a favor to their (now old) record company in Bloomington. I’m so glad they made the stop.

Set List:
“Arms Like Boulders”
“Comin’ Through”
“Baby Missiles”
“Buenos Aires Beach”
“An Ocean in Between the Waves”
“Best Night”
“Red Eyes”
“Eyes to the Wind”
“Under the Pressure”
“In Reverse”
“It’s Your Destiny”
“Lost in the Dream”
“I Was There”

  1. There’s that word again.  ↩
  2. Again, very small sample size here.  ↩
  3. EVERY music critic who lauded Lost In The Dream last year talked about how amazing the second solo in “Ocean” is. Good Lord is it magnificent live.  ↩