Album of the Week: The War On Drugs, 'Live Drugs'

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The War On Drugs, 'Live Drugs'
The War On Drugs, 'Live Drugs' (Atlantic Records)
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As every single review of a live album will note, in a time when live music has been put on hold, it's all the more thrilling that the War on Drugs have devoted themselves so entirely to providing a pristine document of their live show, as chronicled in their new live album, Live Drugs.

Live Drugs feels both like a tantalizing window into the band's live set, while also all-encompassing and wholly fulfilling. The War on Drugs feel like a band whose sets could stretch beyond the two-hour mark, but at 75 minutes, this feels like the perfect slice of capturing the essence of their live sets.

When Adam Granduciel spoke with Mary Lucia about the album a few weeks ago, he noted that the album is intended as an emulation of the band's shows, rather than a document of any one set. Notably, this means that not only is the album pieced together from multiple shows from 2017 to 2018, but each individual song is built from different pieces of different shows. As Granduciel notes, a guitar solo from one show might be edited together with an outro from a different show. Given the band's reputation for perfectionism, it winds up giving the record a cohesive effect, giving the listener the impression that they are hearing the band's absolute top-tier performance.

Live Drugs opens with arguably the band's four most urgent tracks, each one diving into Granduciel's emotional depths to the point where it's so exhilarating that it's exhausting, or maybe the other way around - in the best possible way, mind you. Whereas I felt that the 10+ minute "Thinking of a Place" felt out of place on the band's most recent studio album, A Deeper Understanding, it fits well here at the center of the record as a transition into a spacier vibe where the stakes are a little lower. There's a dive into the band's overlooked first record with the deep cut "Buenos Aires Beach," and devotees will be happy to know that the cover of Warren Zevon's "Accidentally Like a Martyr" makes the cut as well. We even get to live out the concert experience with the band intros before "Eyes to the Wind" before ending the set with "Under the Pressure" and "In Reverse," a pair of tracks which originally bookended their 2014 album Lost in the Dream.

One thing that struck me while listening to Live Drugs is how many of Granduciel's songs are written in the second person: time and time again, he addresses an unknown, unseen person with whom he pleads for connection and understanding. It's very easy to read into this on a personal sense, but on a grander scale, the record winds up symbolizing the role between artist and audience. Even as he's singing these songs, we realize that it's not really real; the idea of live music or happiness in general feels like an unreachable fantasy that may or may not be gone forever. So of course, yes, it's sad to listen to this album, but also as glorious as one could imagine. Live Drugs is an essential document of the War on Drugs in every sense, giving us a wonderful dream to get lost in.

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