The War on Drugs’ Retro Inclined Guitar Rock Makes Waves at Chicago Theatre (SHOW REVIEW)

It had been a while since this reviewer stepped into the famed Chicago Theatre for a night of live music (roughly 2 years, to be exact), but what better way to get reacquainted with perhaps the grandest of all Chicago music venues than “An Evening of Live Drugs” on a blustery February 11th.  Contrary to the playfully suggestive title, there was really only a modest amount of actual “live drugs” to be found (judging by the smell of things anyway), but more importantly, Philly’s finest retro-inclined guitar heroes The War On Drugs were in attendance, playing night two of a back-to-back stint in The Windy City.

Remarking on the beauty of the venue, lead singer/guitarist Adam Granduciel was in a decidedly laid-back and somewhat reflective mood Friday night, as he couldn’t help but warmly reminisce about the first time the band played in Chicago (at the legendary dive bar The Empty Bottle) and various connections with fans from years past, etc. It was a fitting sentiment really, considering this is a band who has largely made a name for themselves over the years with their distinctly earnest and sincere brand of nostalgia-heavy heartland rock. 

And although The War On Drugs clearly like to wear their influences on their sleeves at times (the band’s cover of Dylan’s “Born In Time” that night was a prime example), what makes The Drugs’ music unique is their uncanny ability to recall the sounds and influences from years past (namely Springsteen-inspired 80s arena-rock) and truly make it their own, without sounding dated or cheesy in the process.  That’s largely a credit to the deeply introspective and relatable nature of Adam Granduciel’s songs, which compellingly explore themes of loneliness, nostalgia, and regret as a means to gain new insights, prospectives, and revelations. The songs effectively serve as a vehicle to dig deeper into those emotions and memories, to come to terms with them, and ultimately find new paths that lead out of the darkness and into the proverbial light, so to speak (so much for not sounding cheesy). 

But all kidding aside, coupled with the band’s keenly dramatic delivery, which covers the full spectrum from atmospheric and brooding, to propulsive and resounding, it all creates a uniquely intimate listening experience, especially on record. And while The Drugs were definitely able to convey a lot of that intimacy in a live setting (most notably on a positively soaring performance of “Strangest Thing” and an epically intense/powerful performance of “Under The Pressure”), the band’s set generally felt more light-hearted and less emotionally heavy broadly speaking. In other words, it was more relaxed and joyful than pensive and melodramatic, thanks largely to exhilarating performances of songs like “Red Eyes”, and the surging “Ocean Between the Waves”.

Their newer material also contributed to the generally warmer/uplifting vibes radiating from the stage that night, with performances of “Harmonia’s Dream” and the title track from their new album I Don’t Live Here Anymore resonating particularly strongly with the crowd. The band largely stuck to material from their breakthrough (and debatably best) album Lost in the Dream, as well as their aforementioned new album (selections from A Deeper Understanding were, unfortunately, few and far between), but overall, The Drugs essentially could do no wrong during their marathon 2 and a ½ hour set (which included an encore).

As the smiling masses filed their way out into the brisk February night, where the temperatures were crashing harder than the latest waning Omicron wave, you couldn’t help but feel The War On Drugs had left everyone with a palpable sense of warmth and optimism in the wake of their performance.  It all seemed fitting really, with Spring a month or two (or three) away, there was a collective sense that brighter days were hopefully ahead, which is a testament to the positive effect “An Evening with Live Drugs” can offer.   

The War on Drugs Setlist The Chicago Theatre, Chicago, IL, USA 2022, An Evening of LIVE DRUGS

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