The War On Drugs at the O2 Academy (16 Feb ’15)

It was off to the Academy for a gig that was postponed from last November, due to being bumped by The War On Drugs for an appearance on “Later… With Jools Holland“, which is a somewhat careerist reason for cancelling a gig, but I guess made sense from their perspective.

The downside was it meant I had to miss out on The Jesus And Mary Chain performing their classic “Psychocandy” album in full, as they were in town on the same night. At least I had already seen twice JAMC back in their near-heyday, first at Brixton Academy in December 1988, with a great supporting cast of Pussy Galore and The Perfect Disaster; and then in April 1992 at the same venue as part of the Rollercoaster tour, alongside Dinosaur Jr., Blur and My Bloody Valentine. I’d actually seen WOD before, when they played The Kazimier back in February 2012, but I can recall little of that gig, despite it making my Top 5 of the year (and that was pre-my blogging days so I can’t cheat either)!

I had time to quickly stop by the Ship & Mitre for a pint of Stamps’ Mail Train (a bit too malty for me) and then the not-as-hoppy-as-expected Hop As Hell from Woodlands Brewery, before making it into the venue with the support act only just underway.

War On Drugs ticket

People were still thin enough on the ground for me to easily make it right to the front. It was a noticeably older than usual crowd, perhaps due to the greater ‘classic rock’ appeal of the band than your usual indie big thing. The one positive of the O2 Academy is that the cloakroom is free for O2 customers (well up to a certain limit, at least), which saved the extortionate £2 fee. I didn’t bother to check what the bar had to offer as I knew it would be overpriced and extremely limited.

Amen Dunes were kicking things off, a band I knew nothing about before discovering they were to be playing. I expected them to be very Krautrock with a name like that, but they were instead rather more of a lo-fi, alt.folk type affair. I was distinctly underwhelmed by the songs I listened to online before the gig, but I quite liked them live, even when playing some of the same songs. The band consisted of main man Damon McMahon on guitar and vocals, another guitarist/keyboard player Jordi Wheeler and drummer Neal Morgan, who was playing his first ever gig with the others. So, oddly, no bass.

The first song I caught was “I Know Myself”, the opening track from this year’s “Cowboy Worship” ep, which was followed by “Lonely Richard” from their “Love” album, which reminded me a little of His Name Is Alive or similar 4AD sounds. They dedicated “Bedroom Drum” to The Las’ mythical leader Lee Mavers, who they hoped (almost certainly in vain) was in the audience, while during the last album’s title track McMahon played some percussion that looked like a bag of Brazil nuts!


The War On Drugs started things off as they meant to continue, with a lengthy instrumental intro to their first song, “Burning” from last year’s third (and best, I’d say) album “Lost In The Dream”. They then reached back to the 2008 debut for “Arms Like Boulders” with the first of several appearances of a baritone sax, a rare sight at gigs I go to.

War On Drugs 1

The band was six strong, featuring four rather neat beards, and an array of instrumentation, including a see-through drum kit. Leader Adam Granduciel reminded me a little of Michael Hutchence, but fortunately without the histrionics.
The opener from the latest album, “Under The Pressure”, was a clear audience favourite, with (personal bugbear alert) a fair amount of crowd clapping along during its instrumental break, as the guitar heroics were ably supported by more sax. It was at this point that I decided that he’d clearly drawn inspiration from Bob Dylan circa “Blonde On Blonde”, although the influence is not all that overt. Dylan came to mind once more when Granduciel dug out his harmonica for the first time on “In Reverse”, “Lost In The Dream”’s closer.

Another off the latest release, “An Ocean In Between The Waves”, brought another guitar frenzy, as well as what I think was a cornet, which returned on the same album’s “Disappearing” as the epic riffing continued alongside more harmonica.

War On Drugs 2

Two tracks from 2011’s “Slave Ambient”, “Baby Missiles” and “Best Night” brought a bit of a lull to proceedings (though I think it’s a very good album) before the night really kicked up another notch with a wonderful cover version of George Harrison’s gorgeous “Beware Of Darkness”, one of many stone cold classics from 1970’s debut triple LP “All Things Must Pass”.

My fear that a cover might prove to be the highlight of the night was soon overcome by the sublime ‘oh ohs’ of “Buenos Aires Beach” from WOD’s debut album, before the set closed with two epics, with the latter of the tea, “Eyes To The Wind”, featuring great keyboard work.

War On Drugs 3

The obligatory encore consisted of “It’s Your Destiny” and the beautifully intense “Your Love Is Calling My Name”, both from “Slave Ambient”. I left with my ears ringing, and soul ever-so-slightly uplifted!

Tonight’s t-shirt
I debuted a green Hüsker Dü t-shirt tonight, for no good reason other than that I’d not yet worn it since getting it for Christmas from My Beloved Wife. There were quite a lot of other band t-shirts in evidence, as I would have expected from a gig at the Academy. A young snogging couple at the front had both bought War On Drugs shirts from the merch stand on the way in, but the others I spotted reflected the age profile of the audience – The La’s, Neil Young & Crazy Horse, Kraftwerk (hi, Kev!) and even Elvis Presley.

Here are a few highlights from the set list:

One response to “The War On Drugs at the O2 Academy (16 Feb ’15)

  1. Pingback: 2015 in review | undilutable slang truth·

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