Wednesday 29 February 2012

The War On Drugs, Weird Dreams at Electric Ballroom - 28 February 2012

The War On Drugs (pic Robert Loerzel)

Growing up in public can be difficult for a band. Working out what works and what doesn’t can be a laborious business. And sometimes things are wrong before they become right.

I’m struck by these thoughts as I watch Weird Dreams in their support slot at the Electric Ballroom tonight.

First off, the band is better when they play their faster songs. The rest of the time, singer/guitarist Doran and his band rather plod through a set of journeyman rock. Doran’s voice is also a problem – it doesn’t fit this material. It’s too anodyne, there’s no attack, no colour.

That said, the third song that they play really works. The guitars bite, there’s a good meaty chug. Weird Dreams have good stuff in them.

But the moment soon passes and it’s back to bland again. Really, this is a problem of material. Weird Dreams just don’t have enough of it to enable them to discard the less invigorating parts of their repertoire. This may come in time.

They still need a better singer though.

Lack of material is not a charge that can be levelled at The War On Drugs. Adam Granduciel and his crew come trailing rumours of lengthy sets and missed curfews.

With his shoulder length hair and slightly stooped figure, Granduciel looks like a woodland creature that might be happiest living under a bridge. He ain’t no oil painting. But he can play a mean guitar.

A statement of intent comes when one of the band’s best and most popular tracks, ‘Baby Missiles’ is dispensed with as only the second tune of the evening.

The standard War On Drugs song relies on establishing a relentless, urgent and almost Krautrocky rhythm which builds and builds as Granduciel layers his guitar solos over the top. Bassist Dave Hartley and drummer Steve Urgo are both very good tonight.

There is not a lot of light and shade in the set. Tracks do tend to blur into each other, sometimes literally, as extended whole-band wig outs are used to segue songs together. Granduciel has a rather keening, Dylan-esque whine that is also somewhat of an acquired taste.

At one point the band play a Waterboys cover. Having assiduously avoided them all these years, I don’t recognise the tune, but this version seems relatively straight take on the so-called ‘big music’ of twenty years ago.

The War On Drugs are very good at what they do, and despite some niggles, I mostly enjoy them. This seems an exercise in nostalgia though, a hankering back to mainstream college rock of the middle Seventies. It’s safe and reassuring and easily consumed. I don’t think that I need to see them again when they play the bigger stages that will surely come their way.

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