Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Sound engineering by Mike Gentry, Photo provided by Robert Loerzel
The first time we were supposed to record The War On Drugs, lead singer Adam Granduciel rung us up a half hour before they were supposed to be here in Rock Island, calling from Chicago - almost three hours away. He told us that they'd awoken to find that their traveling car (a piece of junk, as the story goes) would not start on that cold morning and they were stuck in the city, with their gear still locked in the club where they'd played the night before. It was very cold that day, but obviously, it had been a late night as well and the Philadelphia band seems to know its way around the contours of long nights. They seem intimate with long nights - those that find all of the possible tangents and ways to extend themselves even longer. Granduciel writes some of the most ramshackle and brilliant, psychedelic and rustic songs out there and they almost always border on greatness, if not achieve it. He evokes Bobby Dylan and Neil Young, while stringing together the kind of musical cluster of sounds and emotions that are nearly impossible to get at as a three-piece band. The spectacular "Wagonwheel Blues," is a mashing of sounds that one could hear at a busy train station, with three passenger trains crossing paths as if they were slicing up the yard like a pizza, missing each other by a hair - all of them with different tones and clatter. You can hear all of the anxieties of the folks riding the rails - the paying customers and the hobos. You can hear the nerves, the sobs, the farewells and the power of the shove off, along with the impressive power to keep all of that stuff rolling down the tracks. It's a hurricane of stuff, a furnace of collisions, or near collisions. What's more is that it's as if the largest clientele of these passenger trains is that of those with long attention spans and the need for insistent experimentation, but who never lose sight of the hook or the story. Granduciel is smart with his paces, flying off the handle and noodling his fingers off, while adding plenty of auxiliary sounds, but still keeping the songs taut, even the 10-plus-minute epic, "Show Me The Coast." Many of his songs are expressions of disgust and of the have-nots, looking at lives and wondering why they can't be better or fuller. He sings, "I don't mind feelin bad/Think about what I never had," and it's a sentiment that seems to follow these songs about broken existences, though they're existences that seem to ring as universal truths as we've all been sitting in a cold weather-locked car that won't turn over and we're thinking, "Now what?"