A few years back I took a road trip across the United States. I used to think I’d get Ry Cooder in to score the resulting footage, but after tonight I’m thinking Adam Granduciel would be the better choice. His particular brand of neo-Americana is perfect for the leftover, nostalgic images of being on the road. Dusty highways, wild abandon and faded blue jeans coalesce perfectly with his laconic drawl, buzzing guitar solos and drifting harmonica lines.
The War on Drugs open their set with ‘Best Night’ and during the second verse, Adam sings ‘I’m a thousand miles behind with a million more to climb‘. He looks like he’s had a tough day, maybe a tough week, but there’s something reassuring in the music and those words. Ultimately my intuition doesn’t lead me astray, because this evening we’re treated to the entirety of the bands’ accomplished second album, Slave Ambient, which was released last August. Hearing the songs in their album sequence, how they were intended to be heard, lends the set a sense of familiarity and comfort that sticks with the band all night.
Most of the bands catalogue doesn’t have traditional song structures. Just like the band, they’re drifters. Each song seems to melt into the next, driven by the steady, motorik-beats and rhythms of Steven Urgo and Dave Hartley. Songs like ‘Your Love Is Calling My Name’ and ‘Baby Missiles’ cruise along with the sense of momentum only being slightly reprieved on more languid songs or layered reprisals like ‘I Was There’ or ‘The Animator’.
Even after sweeping through a twelve song set the band have enough energy left to play a four song encore which draws mainly from their acclaimed debut, Wagonwheel Blues. It’s here that Adam tells us he got drunk out in Berlin the previous night. He digresses for a moment and asks the audience for a cigarette and someone obliges him almost immediately. As he continues we’re told he can’t remember where he went but that’s probably why he knows it was a good night out. It’s a simple anecdote of life on the road, of touring, of many a twenty-somethings weekend and it seems appropriate in the smoke filled, beer stained abyss of Magnet Club. And then almost without anyone even noticing the band are playing again, singing about getting the hell outta town, and that too seems appropriate.
On the way home I was left with the thought of seeking the horizon and how we never really know what awaits us there. In the end it’s just a concept…abstract and forever distant… but just like the future and other intangibles, maybe that’s the point. The best we can do is keep on driving towards it and whether you’re driving like a madman to get there, or sitting on the passenger side casually enjoying one of the worn vistas of rock ‘n’ roll like tonight, The War on Drugs is as good a soundtrack as any…