When Water Street Music Hall came back on the scene last year after a short liqour license renewal process, they promised to bring some big acts to town that had previously skipped over Rochester. The War On Drugs coming to town, in support of their critically-acclaimed 2014 release Lost in the Dream on Monday, qualifies as such a show.
The Adam Granduciel-led band took the stage to a packed crowd in front of a backdrop of large blocky white c-shapes washed in shifting LED lights. “Burning” opened what would be a set heavy on material off their latest album. Granduciel painted his Dylan-inspired American rock songs atop landscapes produced by his backing band of David Hartley on bass, Charlie Hall on drums, and Robbie Bennett, Jon Natchez and Anthony LaMarca all on various keyboards. It was more keys then I had expected at this show. Though Natchez frequently switched to flugelhorn or saxophone and LaMarca played some guitars. And Hall added in some synthesized drum beats here and there. With broad strokes they smudged the lines between electric and organic. It didn’t matter if it was the honk of a horn or the pounding of keys, the sound of the band melded together into a singular matte for Granduciel to work from.
The songs existed in the blurred out area between singer/songwriter and rock and roll. They were twisted, turned and kneaded in between that space, languidly oozing from place to place. There was no hurry to get moving, and with no real desire to sharpen or peak. It was blurred out head bobbing music. At times maybe Granduciel was a bit too generous with the smudge stick and songs could almost be indistinguishable from each other, many taking shape as a slow build to a mid-level peak, similarly paced and similarly gloomy.
But amongst that potential monotony came plenty of shining masterpieces worthy of hanging on to. A mid-set “An Ocean in Between the Waves” made generous use of punctuated “Woos!” and “Yeahs!” providing energetic oomph before fizzling out and segueing into the slinky groover “Disappearing.” The funky bass line backed up one of the more fiery guitar solos of the evening before ending on a mellow repetitive sequence that I could have sat inside forever. “Under the Pressure” featured some colorful interplay between saxophone and guitar which then blasted into a quick but rocking jam. Uninterested in giving up too quickly, Granduciel crouched down to his pedals and fiddled with his palette, adding to his band’s wash of sound before reentering the space of the song yet again for a triumphant finish.
The wanting crowd was treated to a lengthy encore that saw the band ditch their latest works and dive deeper into their catalog, before finishing up with a quick but tasty cover of Ronnie Wood’s “Mystifies Me.”
Burning, Arms Like Boulders, Baby Missiles, Lost in the Dream, An Ocean in Between the Waves, Disappearing, Red Eyes, Eyes to the Wind, Under the Pressure, In Reverse, Come to the City
Encore: Black Water Falls, Buenos Aires Beach, I Was There, Coming Through, Mystifies Me (Ronnie Wood Cover)