Live Review: The War on Drugs guide The Enmore through the beauty and the pain in Sydney

On “The Strangest Thing” The War on Drugs‘ Adam Granduciel sings, “Am I just living between/ The beauty and the pain” – it’s a strong statement of the War on Drugs and their chief songwriter’s appeal. The six-member band has an innate ability to convey emotion and atmosphere. Lonesome guitars swirl around a steady beat conveying introspective moments of doubt and weariness. Its counterpoint comes in the optimistic chime of Granduciel’s guitar, cutting through the wall of noise triumphant and uplifting.

Middle Kids have found their way to a great crossroads of their own. They tread a line indebted to country music, but they run it through the urgency of a post-punk lens that at moments like catchy new single “Mistakes”, execute it better than just about anyone since Rilo Kiley. It’s pretty clear why they have been courting positive press overseas, receiving a warm, if a bit subdued reception.

The War on Drugs have been making big moves, nabbing a Grammy and stepping up from club venues and midday sets to headlining slots and theatre shows. Not too much has changed in their approach, excluding a more impressive lighting rig that built a wall of light, blanketed up against smoke, and during “The Idling Hour” and “Under The Pressure” bathed the stage in Kaleidoscopic colours. They are very much a muso’s muso band. There isn’t a lot of flair to their playing, with each member locked in concentration, hitting their marks to build that thick atmosphere.

The War on Drugs

Granduciel’s lyrics are lost amongst the music for much of the night; his voice serving almost as an extra instrument echoing and flowing through the mix. The biggest moments through the night come through a work of sustain and release, drawing their songs out, letting them breathe and slowly unfurl while keeping an eye on when to close them out and hit their crescendos. “Thinkin on a Place” and “Pain” executed this especially well.

Just introspective shoegazing wouldn’t be enough to captivate the crowd throughout a two-hour set. “Holdin On” chimes with the Springsteen like keys arrangement brightening it. “Red Eyes” has the band break from circling around Granduciel’s lead guitar, pulling together on the riff, building into to a beast that threatens to steal the set. That they take you on these journeys is them so rewarding. It isn’t hard to just shut your eyes to “Eyes To The Wind” and be taken elsewhere.

Photos by Belinda Dipalo.

The reviewer attended the show on the 7th of February 2018 at the Enmore Theatre in Sydney.