When it came time to write last year’s Lost in the Dream, The War on Drugs went in banking on the strength of their live set. After nearly two years on the road in support of 2011’s Slave Ambient, the band’s four members had not only honed their chops, they’d solidified a sound that was far greater than the sum of its parts, and record #4 was built to showcase it.
Flash-forward to present day and the Drugs are still touring. Hard. Since the release of Lost last February, the band has crisscrossed the States multiple times (I caught them at the Troubadour almost exactly a year ago); they’ve played festivals, toured Europe, and made all the late night T.V. rounds. They’ll hit Coachella (again) this Friday and The Ellen DeGeneres Show on Monday. All of this is to say, if The War on Drugs were at their performance peak when they recorded Lost in the Dream, well, now they’re approaching superhuman status.
Tuesday’s set was an undeniably supped-up step forward from that Troubadour show last March. Since the record release, the band has added two additional players. They’ve also commissioned a literal wall of light to set the mood. And if you’re wondering, yes, all these bells and whistles do totally add to the hazy, textural, Springsteen-indebted working class rock ‘n’ roll music that the Drugs had nailed so long ago. Songs like “Baby Missiles” and “Red Eyes” were transformed from rumbling road anthems to huge, quaking rock outs with the heft of eight people behind them, while those slower, more introspective tracks (“Suffering,” “An Ocean Between the Waves”) gave the band room to stretch out (and jam out) in a way that wasn’t only tolerable — it was, in its best moments, damn near revelatory.
Say what you will about the sustainability of the Drugs’ breakneck, no-rest-for-the-weary tour schedule; it’s done wonders for their live show. In 2015, The War on Drugs have mastered the art of catching lightening in a bottle. Now here’s hoping they don’t burn out.