a free-wheeling rock’n’roll evening
Bruce Springsteen hasn’t toured the UK for six years now, but the live schedule for the past few weeks has provided two ample replacements. In one corner you have Sam Fender’s recent arena run, where he tapped into the bullish underdog mind of The Boss and ruminated on tales of grit and grind in a working-class town; they don’t call it the Geordie Springsteen for nothing. And then there’s The War On Drugs, the American rock juggernaut led by Adam Granduciel, whose latest album “I Don’t Live Here Anymore” ruminates on the father-son relationship, all about a sprawling America. Granduciel’s infant son is literally named Bruce.
Beyond appeasing Springsteen fans, the project has carefully carved out its own compelling path with every element of their sharp, maximalist rock in perfect balance; it’s arty and considered good enough for chin-strokers, but never too proud to play a face-melting guitar solo just for fun. It’s that latter energy that seems to be winning over the sparse but attentive and giddy fans at the O2 Arena tonight (April 12). In fact, when Granduciel becomes a full-fledged guitar hero during “I Don’t Wanna Wait”, dozens of plaid shirts wearing father-son duos jump to their feet to greet with well-timed punches and a air guitar shredding.
Strips of empty seats at an arena concert would usually put a damper on proceedings, but tonight it seems to release the tension somehow; it feels like there’s a tacit recognition that those outside the room are seriously missing out. “Red Eyes” and “Under The Pressure” are stretched and stretched to their limits, but everyone in the room is totally locked in as the band’s motorik and techno grooves provide a hypnotic element. The tender moments, too, are perfectly realized and appreciated. ‘Rings Around My Fathers Eyes’ soars as gracefully as the “light over the morning sea” that Granduciel purrs, as he prefaces the bluesy-groove ‘Come To The City’ by recalling that he played it at a ‘Sweat Corsica Studios’ in south London over a decade ago. It fills both rooms well.
The specter of his heroes hangs over the night – a Neil Young cover closes the proceedings, and he briefly tosses Bob Dylan’s (“Born In Time”) into a niche near the end – but the sheer bombshell he conjures up with two recent hits, ‘Harmonia’s Dream’ and ‘I Don’t Live Here Anymore’ offer a flavor of their own: bolshy, fun and ambitious. It’s never easy to balance a nod to the past with something decidedly modern, but few do it as effectively and with such a big heart as Granduciel.
The war on drugs played:
“An ocean between the waves”
“I do not want to wait”
“The Strangest Thing”
“The Dream of Harmony”
“Come to Town”
‘Circles around my father’s eyes’
“I don’t live here anymore”
“Think of a place”
“Lost in the Dream”
“Like a Hurricane” (Neil Young cover)