Dallas

The War on Drugs Made Transcendence Seem Effortless at the Pavilion at Toyota Music Factory

In an evening full of casual grandeur, the most simple sentiment made the biggest impression.

Adam Granduciel (the stage name of singer-songwriter Adam Granofsky) and his War on Drugs bandmates had amply demonstrated they were capable of conjuring a mesmerizing swirl of guitars, percussion, brass and keys by the time they tucked into “Living Proof,” roughly a quarter of the way through the band’s two-hour set Friday night at Irving’s Pavilion at Toyota Music Factory.

The track is the opening song on the rock group’s fifth and latest LP, last year’s I Don’t Live Here Anymore, the follow-up to 2017’s gripping, Grammy-winning A Deeper Understanding. “Living Proof” is deceptively stripped down — an insistent acoustic guitar riff, which blossoms into a beautiful, climactic electric guitar figure, laid against gentle piano and drums — but its lyrics land with brutal force: “I’m always changing/Love overflowing/But I’m rising/And I’m damaged/Oh, rising,” the 42-year-old Granduciel sang Friday, lights swirling around him.

It’s a striking opener, but situated as it was on Friday between the brooding “Victim” and a sprawling “Harmonia’s Dream,” the song felt like a subtle restatement of what Granduciel had been saying nearly as soon as he took the stage in front of the comfortably full venue: “This place is sweet,” he said, “but every venue is sweet right now.”

COVID-19 protocols were in place Friday; proof of vaccination was required for entry, but despite the band’s request for attendees to mask up, there was a pronounced indifference to face coverings among those gathered. (In a concession to the current reality, the War on Drugs is forgoing opening acts on this leg of its tour, and took the stage promptly at 8:30 p.m.)

Friday’s stop was the band’s first local appearance since a Sept. 2017 gig at what was then known as the Bomb Factory. Granduciel made plain the band’s affinity for Dallas: “We’ve always had a good time playing Dallas — this is close enough to Dallas, right?” he said midway through the set, and later dedicated “Occasional Rain” to Dallas drummer Jeff Ryan (it’s unclear whether Ryan was in attendance Friday).

In an era of hyper TikTok montages and sample-drunk pop music, the music War on Drugs makes is a deliberate throwback to an analog era: men and women making rock music with their hands, embracing the occasional flaw and reveling in the alchemy of live performance.

While it’s tempting to slap a neo-Springsteen label on what Granduciel and his collaborators are doing, reducing their work to such a narrow definition minimizes the expansive, woolly brilliance packed into even the smallest moments.

In an era of hyper TikTok montages and sample-drunk pop music, the music War on Drugs makes is a deliberate throwback to an analog era: men and women making rock music with their hands, embracing the occasional flaw and reveling in the alchemy of live performance.

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Granduciel was backed by drummer Charlie Hall, horn player Jon Natchez, guitarist/keyboardist Robbie Bennett, keyboard/synth player/guitarist Eliza Hardy-Jones and bassist Dave Hartley, with tour manager Craig McQuiston making a cameo to add extra guitar to “Under the Pressure.” (Drummer Anthony LaMarca was absent Friday, but Granduciel noted he would be “rejoining … soon.”)

The set list heavily favored Anymore and 2014’s mesmeric Lost in the Dream, largely bypassing the rest of the band’s catalog. Highlights, augmented by the spare yet dazzling array of lighting on an otherwise spartan stage, abounded: “Pain” was exquisitely bruised, while “Red Eyes” set the room ablaze, “I Don’t Live Here Anymore” electrified and “Under the Pressure” culminated in an extended instrumental freak-out only reinforcing how effortless the War on Drugs made musical transcendence look and feel.

By mingling visceral nostalgia and lacerating dispatches from the front lines of life, the War on Drugs manages a potent magic trick, crafting expansive rock songs that feel familiar, even as the nuances — tucked away behind elegant, gorgeous guitar lines and sky-scraping bombast — pop out like spring-loaded surprises, as capable of lifting you up as they are bringing you to your knees.



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