The War On Drugs wrapped 2018 in comfort and style last Friday. The band closed out their year and tour with a 15-song hometown show at the Tower Theater and a little champagne.
Just one album removed from their breakout Lost In The Dream, The War on Drugs launched the tour for A Deeper Understanding at Philadelphia’s Dell Music Center in 2017. The band fittingly ended this run of live shows supporting their fourth record with a “first annual” Drug-cember concert series at three Philly venues – Johnny Brenda’s, Union Transfer, and the Tower Theater.
Just like the Fairmount Park show last year, the trio of concerts had the duel bonus of supporting the Philadelphia community. This set of gigs doubled as a benefit for the School District of Philadelphia.
The communal effort was on display at the Tower Theater. If the music was not enough, the “E-A-G-L-E-S” and “Trust the Process” chants in between songs promoted the feeling.
Chasing openers Frances Quinlan (Hopalong) and The Building, the band played work from each of their four albums. Seven songs came from Lost In The Dream. Two were an unlikely pair of covers.
The War on Drugs opened with the upbeat “Holding On” and “Baby Missiles” before shifting into more contemplative tunes. Material like “Pain,” and “Disappearing” presented frontman Adam Granduciel’s knack for pensive lyrics. It also revealed how well the band can extend each of their songs.
A War on Drugs show is not a pop show. Every song is a unique listening journey – intricate musicianship that can grow into a well-crafted jam.
It is hard to ignore Granduciel’s gifts as a guitar player. Songs like “Strangest Thing” and “Pain” provide for a perpetual Classic Rock feel as he and the band reach for epic moments. Many groups would save those songs for the end of a set, but for The War on Drugs that is just their style.
Midway through the show, the band pivoted for two covers. Allentown comedian Tim Heidecker (who also emceed the evening) played “Hot Piss,” a song from his Yellow River Boys project. It was a major departure for the band, but the casual nature of the moment fostered the gig’s homecoming feel.
Heidecker, Paul Vile, and The War on Drugs followed with Tom Petty’s “Straight Into Darkness.” The introspective nature of the Long After Dark hit was an obscure, yet perfect fit with their style.
After both covers, the band revved up the tempo of the show with the instant classic “Red Eyes.” Two songs later the evening found its emotional high point during “Under the Pressure.”
Many in the crowd cheered Lost In Dream anthem’s first few
notes. Despite being more of an arena effort than their typical songs, “Under the Pressure” is also the quintessential reason to see the band: tremendous lyrics and an epic jam by an amazing collective of musicians. Drummer Charlie Hall was particularly stunning as he wowed the crowd with his energy during the song’s crescendo.
Despite two more great songs (“Eyes to the Wind” and “Lost In The Dream”), anything that followed “Under the Pressure” was doomed to be anti-climatic. As extensive as the band’s concert-friendly material is, the track is the clear live highlight.
It is also obvious how much the outfit has become a Philly favorite. Not many groups could traverse a major city for consecutive shows in three different sized venues, but The War on Drugs have made a concerted effort to embrace their roots. The concert at the Tower Theater was the group’s fifth in the area since releasing A Deeper Understanding.
Their fans are rewarding them by matching the group’s slow burn approach with an embrace for different moments, whether it is a jaw-dropping solo or comedy song.
Midway through the show, The War on Drugs toasted the audience and their touring crew with a couple of bottles of champagne – celebrating a career high point in their own hometown.