REVIEW: The War on Drugs’ sweeping chords bring a warm, psychedelic glow to the Academy

Nicholas L. Balfe reviews The War on Drugs after their three sold-out shows at the Brixton Academy 

war on drugs

After nine years of hard graft, The War On Drugs have finally graduated from the small club circuit, and are standing comfortably in front of nearly five thousand beaming faces on the final date of their 2015 European tour. It’s the band’s third sold-out show at the Brixton Academy in less than two weeks.

We’re swept along on a two hour journey through the depths of front man Adam Granduciel‘s emotions: feelings of isolation, regret, pain and loss, through acceptance, achievement and change. There’s a sense of melancholia, of course, but it’s set against a backdrop of stripped-down, driving drums and rich, atmospheric chords. No matter what the subject matter, every note is played with such energy and passion, the crowd can’t help but feel uplifted.

Following the opener, Under The Pressure, they bounce straight into the organ-driven stomp of Baby Missiles. The repetitive drums rattle along at pace, providing a taut backbone to the captivating hooks, riffs and melodies that fill the room. This is a band on a high.

The War On Drugs received a series of rave reviews in 2014 for their third album, Lost in the Dream, catapulting them to the top of too many critic’s choice lists to mention. With the acclaim came comparisons to a whole host of bands from the classic rock of the 70s and 80s. Throughout the gig, a series of epic songs bring the likes of Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty, Neil Young and Bob Dylan to mind, each of them reinterpreted in a present day take on Americana.

This is hazy, windswept music for big skies and open roads. It’s sweeping chords wrap around the Academy with a warm, fuzzy, psychedelic glow.

The tempo drops as the beat-less intro of In Reverse is stretched out for what seems like blissful eternity. Granduciel drawls lyrics about hope and positivity as a lush fx-laden soundscape envelopes the room. He pauses between verses and turns to the audience. “You guys are the f*cking best!”, he cries, as the drums kick in. “When we’re living in the moment / making our path / making it last” goes the chorus. Never could a lyric have more resonance.

If this is their moment, long may they enjoy it.


  1. […] The War On Drugs played Brixton Academy last month to critical acclaim across the board. “This is hazy, windswept music for big skies and open roads” said our reviewer Nicholas, “its sweeping chords wrap around the Academy with a warm, fuzzy, psychedelic glow.” How lovely. Read the full review here. […]

  2. If those lights were like that for any length of time and flashing around one emotion would be unhappy, it would make me sick!

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