The War On Drugs wrapped 2018 with a three-night run in different Philly venues to raise money for the School District of Philadelphia. One year later, the group returned to the City of Brotherly Love for Another Drugcember To Remember. The benefit gigs at Union Transfer and The Fillmore represented their only two shows of 2019 and closed a decade in which they played a large role in the Philadelphia music scene.
The second annual event is quickly becoming a highlight of the Philadelphia music calendar. The quasi-residency is a chance to catch collaborations with different area musicians and The War On Drugs in unique settings. Concerts rarely feel like triumphs, but these nights are celebrations of the special bond between the band and its hometown.
Night One: Union Transfer, 12/29/19
The unforgettable evening began with the ecstatic tones of Merrill Reese in the Union Transfer parking lot. The broadcaster’s narration of Boston Scott punching the Eagles playoff ticket not long before the return of a beloved local band is an indelible memory that set a celebratory tone for both nights.
New Parents and Philly’s Rosali opened for the late-arriving crowd. New Parents have a Kurt Vile tone and channeled a vibe similar to the early member of The War on Drugs. Rosali mixed in some new material with her Laurel Canyon folk music. By the time her set wrapped, Union Transfer was packed for the rare chance to catch a big name in an intimate venue. The War On Drugs kicked off with three sublime tracks from Slave Ambient: “Your Love Is Calling My Name,” “The Animator,” and “Come To The City.”
Following the wistful “Pain,” frontman Adam Granduciel remarked that it “Feels good to be rusty.” The sentiment unwittingly pre-empted his miscue in the epic “Strangest Thing.” Midway through the song, he let out a groan that served as a reminder that the band were coming out of yearlong layoff. The moment was an endearing part of a night where the opportunity to see seminal songs like “Red Eyes” up close was otherwise surreal.
The band weaved three covers into the set. Rosali returned for The Pretenders’ “Birds of Paradise.” Mike Polizze from Purling Hiss dropped in for a tremendous collaboration on Neil Young’s “Looking For My Love.” After Warren Zevon’s “Accidentally Like A Martyr,” the teasing clicks of “Under The Pressure” brought the Union Transfer to a frenzy that defined the evening.
The Lost In The Dream opener has long been the highlight of any War On Drugs set. The piano strokes, shredding guitar, and Charlie Hall’s passionate drumming take on a special form that cannot be put into words, only witnessed. Getting the chance to take in the arena-sized number in a cozy space makes the Drugcember shows an immersive music experience.
Night Two: The Fillmore, 12/30/19
The War on Drugs show at the more spacious Fillmore kicked off with contrasting openers Chris Koltay and Casey Magic. Koltay’s reverb-heavy set laid roughly 30 minutes of an ambient drone. Casey Magic lived up to his surname, entertaining the crowd with conjur and deception. The War On Drugs opened again with “Your Love Is Calling My Name” before introducing some variance from the previous night.
Mainstays like “Red Eyes” and “In Reverse” were played at both concerts, while new additions “Burning” and “Comin’ Through” played well to the larger room. Rosali and Mike Polizze returned for the same Neil Young and Pretenders covers, but the unquestioned highlight came from a cover of Patti’s Smith’s “Because The Night.”
Rosali dazzled as the lead on the Patti Smith classic. For a band that typically entices head nods, the ensemble’s “can’t hurt you now-ow-ow-ow” was a rare shoutalong moment at a War On Drugs gig.
After the run of covers, The War On Drugs ended the main set with two lengthy originals – “Under The Pressure” and the dreamy “Thinking Of A Place.” Unlike the Union Transfer gig, they treated The Fillmore to an encore performance. The jangle pop of the Slave Ambient track “Brothers” added a warm finishing touch to two memorable nights of synth, dream pop, and guitar from some of Philadelphia’s finest.
Highlights from Another Drugcember
- The War On Drugs played 35 songs from three different albums. Wagonwheel Blues was the only album not represented.
- The band has played five straight gigs in Philadelphia, dating back to 2018.
- The deep cut “Comin’ Through” from Future Weather (EP) was played at The Fillmore concert.
- Opener Rosali featured Gianmarco Cilli on bass. War On Drugs members Charlie Hall and Dave Hartley played on his 2019 album The Feel Is Now.
- The cover of “Because The Night” with Rosali and Mike Polizze was played on Patti Smith’s birthday