The War on Drugs takes on Altar Bar

Arts - War (sf)
(Sam Fatula / The Duquesne Duke) – Adam Granduciel of The War on Drugs plays Saturday at Altar Bar.

By: Sam Fatula | Asst. A&E Editor

At the start of The War on Drugs’ performance at Altar Bar on Saturday, the initial feeling between band and crowd seemed awkwardly distant.

As the six-piece rock group from Philadelphia systematically set up their instruments and continued on through sound checks, acknowledgement of the crowd was somewhat sparse. Even lead singer and guitarist Adam Granduciel, who walked onto the stage with a bottle of Perrier water, minced few words with the front row as he taped a lyrics sheet to the head of the stage.

But perhaps the band’s intention was a progressive buildup throughout the show, which would have been consistent with The War on Drugs’ latest album Lost in the Dream, released this past Tuesday. Track by track, Lost in the Dream showcased songs that started out very slowly, yet ended emphatically. As luck would have it, the performance was no different than the album.

Once all of the members of The War on Drugs appeared on stage, the crowd began to file in from all sections of the venue, bustling with excitement, almost to the point where the audience seemed to double in size and volume. A soft synth sound followed, drawing everyone’s attention towards the band. While the synth began to increase in volume, other members began to join in, making for lush, ambient harmonies. This instrumental seamlessly transitioned into the song titled “In Reverse,” which actually closes out Lost in the Dream.

Though “In Reverse” appears at the end of Lost in the Dream, it made for an excellent opener to the show. Whether it was the buildup of the saxophone, the sustain of the keyboard or the combination with Granduciel’s vocals eventually chiming in, the musicianship forced the audience to be engaged with the smallest of musical details.

After the near eight-minute opener resolved, the band started to pick up the pace with the single “Red Eyes.” The pulsating drum beat alongside Granduciel’s echoing guitar riffs from his sunburst Les Paul, commenced immediate head-bobs from the crowd, and even some dance moves from others.

Following “Red Eyes,” Granduciel, who looked like a member cut out from Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, clad in a pair of all-black Converse high tops and a denim jacket, decided to address the crowd by introducing the band members and placed a strange request.

“Does anybody know–or could tell me a good place to get breakfast in Pittsburgh?” asked Granduciel. After a few seconds of silence, shouts of Pamela’s Diner were the general consensus of the go-to breakfast spot. And once Granduciel’s question was answered and appeared satisfied, the band continued on with the rest of the show.

The War on Drugs continued to execute throughout the night, performing numerous songs on Lost in the Dream like the ballad, “Suffering,” “Under the Pressure” and “Eyes to the Wind,” as well as some favorites from their 2011 critically acclaimed release Slave Ambient. Surprisingly, Granduciel announced that they would be playing a cover as well.

When the chants of “Freebird” could be heard from the peanut gallery of Altar Bar, a coy Granduciel answered with “I could play that in my sleep.”

Unfortunately for those who called for “Freebird,” the band instead delivered a John Lennon cover, titled “Mind Games,” which was well received. Soon enough, The War on Drugs made its way off of the stage, waving farewell to the fans.

But expectedly, the audience was not yet satisfied and garnered enough applause and chants for an encore. The band ended the night’s two-hour set with “Black Water Falls,” the closer on Slave Ambient.