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War on Drugs wow fans at Crystal

Alternative rockers War on Drugs kept fans delighted and spellbound at their sold-out Crystal Ballroom show in Portland last night. The band was tight and well-rehearsed as one song after another was pulled from their 10-year repertoire.

Opening with hit single “Under the Pressure” from last year’s hugely popular “Lost in the Dream” release, the band, known for their unique hypno-roots-rock music style, next sprang forth with “Baby Missiles” from “Slave Ambient,” their second studio album. Here, Adam Granduciel on harmonica packed a powerful punch.

Also included: the fast-driving, cinematic “Red Eyes” and “An Ocean in Between the Waves,” both from “Dream.”

Fans clapped in time to “Red Eyes” and full-on pandemonium broke loose after “Ocean,” with “Red Eyes” likely _the_ standout track of the night. Also performed early-on was the Dylan-ish “Arms Like Boulders” from their 2008 “Wagonwheel Blues.”

Kudos to Crystal Ballroom for an excellent sound system. The packed house was a little on the sweltering side but that didn’t seem to dampen crowd enthusiasm much. Fans swayed, danced and clapped throughout the strong setlist. Standing before his microphone, Granduciel seemed to address the crowd personally while singing lead vocals on his stirring “Lost in the Dream.”

Last night’s show was just one stop amidst their current full string of concert dates to promote last year’s album.

Synopsis and accolades

From Philadelphia, War on Drugs was founded in 2005 by duo Kurt Vile and frontman Adam Granduciel. After their “Wagonwheel Blues” debut, Vile departed to pursue a solo career.

Second album “Slave Ambient” was released in 2011 to favorable reviews, and the musically stunning “Lost in the Dream” dropped in March of last year. All ten tracks were mesmerizing, pulling us in with hard-to-resist rhythms and immaculate attention to detail.  Granduciel has described the album as being about “feeling disconnected from everything,” life, expectations, romantic relationships, and “trying to make something in the face of that feeling, but also about it.”

Uncut and Paste magazines each named “Lost in the Dream” album of the year and Portland Radio Project included it in their Top Ten.  In December they were named Band of the Year by Consequence of Sound  and many critics thought the album deserved a Best Rock album nod from The Grammies. Band members are: Adam Granduciel, vocals, guitars, harmonica, keyboards, samplers; David Hartley, bass guitar, electric guitar; Robbie Bennett, keyboards, piano, guitars; Charlie Hall, drums, organ; Jon Natchez, saxophone, keyboards; and Anthony LaMarca, guitar, keyboards.

Stellar musicianship and an encore

WonDrugs2On Thursday night, fans seemed particularly taken by the band’s expertly cohesive musicianship as well as by Granduciel’s low-key stage presence, which contrasts well with his fluid guitar playing style.

After a near perfect performance spanning more than 90 minutes, band members exited the stage while a packed venue let loose with adamant stomps and whistles for an encore.

The band generously covered several more tracks, including a warmly-received rendition of “Suffering.” When all was said and done, lights went up, fans piled out into the streets of Portland and all was well with the world.

Seattle’s Joseph Giant capably opened for War on Drugs, playing a hard-driving heartland rock ‘n’ roll setlist of their own.

War on Drugs play the Sasquatch Festival at The Gorge this weekend, then head to Vancouver, Toronto and New York. This summer will find them performing several shows in Europe, where they’ve also built a fan base.

You can find their music on iTunes and amazon, or on their website.

Highly recommended – catch them live if you can.

Cynthia Orlando
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