It’s been over a week and I haven’t stopped thinking about Adam Granduciel. No, this isn’t a concern I need to discuss with my therapist. This is the rumination, the appreciation, the temporary obsession I sometimes feel in the aftermath of a bonafide helluva rock-n-roll show. I’m having withdrawals and the only remedy has been binge-listening to War On Drugs records.
I’ve been lost in a lovely dream since Granduciel and his band took to the stage at The Beacham last week for a hypnotic performance that would’ve made anyone fall in love with rock all over again. (Not that you or I could ever fall out of it, dear reader.) But, really, it was the kind of inspiring evening that would reaffirm even a cynic’s faith in the human spirit. Heavy, and heady, stuff for a mere two-hour concert on a random school night? Not really. Not if you know the backstory.
The Maryland-born War On Drugs frontman and multi-instrumentalist, who likely doesn’t go a day without some newbie telling him he sounds like Bob Dylan or Bruce Springsteen (as if they’re the first to discern that), belts out “Woo!” ‘s in various parts of songs in his 2014’s heralded record, Lost In A Dream. Why am I talking about woo’s? Because these woo’s aren’t accidental aural fillers — they’re found in the lyrics on the sheet music. They are significant, hopeful cries that contrast to the dark subject matter of pain, isolation and heartbreak in WOD’s breakthrough third full-length album.
You see, Granduciel, who for a decade has been quietly, meticulously honing his craft, garnering a solid underground following with his Philadelphia-based collective, penned and produced this latest LP in the wake of an anxiety-ridden period in his life — a time rife with panic attacks and a difficult break-up with a long-term girlfriend. And what emerged out his personal turbulence wasn’t some hackneyed heartache record. No, it was a brilliant collection of seamlessly-sequenced tracks that harkened back to the Reagan-era, nostalgia-tinged, yet refreshingly modern, and undeniably Granduciel’s own. It was a victory for an underdog; a 35 year old man wrestling with life changes, fastly approaching middle-age (at least for a rock star), knowing it was now or never.
If you’re around the age of Granduciel (as I am), you can’t help but get giddy butterflies with echoes of your childhood (Dire Straits, Don Henley, Fleetwood Mac, the Boss …) resonating in the keyboards and synthesizers of this album. Gorgeous hazy layers and textures of sprawling spacious melodies and slow-churning hooks all amounted to a position atop almost every critic’s 2014 “Best Of” lists — subsequently propelling TWOD into the mainstream.
Ahhh, but back to those “woo!”s … the first one of the night came around 9:20pm. The unassuming Granduciel, front and center with his ’62 Fender Jazzmaster reissue strapped over his red t-shirt and faded denim jacket, a few shades lighter than his jeans, was so focused on playing — or perhaps it was a symptom of his slightly introverted nature — he kept his eyes closed, head tilted towards the floor. But then he looked up when that “woo” came. And we woo’d back! Friends around me joined in, while singing along to the apropos opener, “Burning,” on a steamy mid-June Wednesday in Florida.
So as you find yourself flying high up there
When you release me from your heart again (woo!)
I’m just a burning man trying to keep the ship
From turning over again
The song, which might be the star of the 10-track LP, had been a personal anthem for me. A recurring soundtrack on my running playlist for the last year, particularly on days when I didn’t feel like working out, it pushed me. A seemingly insignificant note to make in this space, but these are the small things that evoke the meaningful emotions and leave the memories after a concert.
Surveying the stage, I watched the five touring band members groove with their instruments, silhouettes moving in front of a warmly-lit white wall of geometric shapes, while laser lights criss-crossed the dark air around them. Charlie Hall’s sweet retro Ludwig vistalite kit caught my eye. The clear bass drum allowed for a good view of his white jeans and tie-dye orange-white t-shirt as he hit his deliberate beats. I looked at my friend (who is ten years younger than me) and said, “I feel we’re in 1986 right now.” She was unable to hear me, and I realized she wouldn’t have been born yet anyway. So I grinned, “nevermind.”
On the left of the stage, Anthony LaMarca strummed a Gretsch White Falcon and David Hartley plucked his bass guitar. Robbie Bennett was on keyboard, as was Jon Natchez, who would later beautifully play a baritone saxophone. Around them: a synthesizer, a trumpet, guitars, all poised to contribute in the immediate future.
Almost all of the new material was played, with a handful of tunes from the first two albums, Slave Ambient (2011) and Wagonwheel Blues (2008). And while most of them already had extended jams built into the album versions, the band gave us even more in person.
It’s a spiritual thing, and a telling indicator of a band’s performance, when albums are born-again on a home stereo after experiencing them live. They’re fresh again; different. One’s depth of understanding and fondness for the music grows roots, and those roots wrap around a rock n roll heart, and perhaps, even elicits a triumphant “woo.” I’ve been woo-ing a lot the last few days.
Arms Like Boulders
Lost in the Dream
An Ocean in Between the Waves
Eyes to the Wind
Under the Pressure
Your Love Is Calling My Name
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