Quit calling The War on Drugs “Dad Rock”

 By Lane Claffee 
(Photo: @swampsounds)

September 27, 2017

There seems to be a pattern whenever there’s any mention of Philadelphia indie rock band The War On Drugs in any conversation or blog; the term “dad rock” always seems to be fresh on everyone’s lips. Lately, it seems to be a buzzword for describing contemporary americana indie-rock. Of course, as with every buzzword, it fails to fully explain artists and their work properly.  

Frontman Adam Granduciel and The War On Drugs have been creating their special brand of synth-tinged heartland rock since 2005. Despite numerous lineup changes, including founding member Kurt Vile’s departure around 2008, the band has been consistently touring and putting out albums, gaining some popularity with their 2011 sophomore studio album Slave Ambient, but not getting to enjoy the acclaim until the 2014 release of Lost in the Dream. They are currently touring, supporting their newest album A Deeper Understanding, and made a stop at the Fillmore Charlotte Monday night.  

Opening for the indie rock veterans were Canadian rockers Land of Talk, who, surprisingly, have been around almost as long as their tourmates. Starting in 2006 and releasing their debut album in 2009 on Saddle Creek Records, frontwoman and songwriter Elizabeth Powell has constructed this wispy, sweet, yet solemn sentiment in her lyrics, as she sang “I don’t wanna waste it this time / Do you see the fate that’s the end of me?/ I don’t wanna waste it, my life / To think it was in front of me.”  As the band spilled out their heartfelt songs, the crowd warmly, yet tamely, applauded.  

As the night progressed and Land of Talk finished up their set, eventually the time came for the much-anticipated headliners to appear. As the lights dimmed, Granduciel and company began with the graceful “In Chains,” off of A Deeper Understanding. The songs, which sounded big on the studio album, had turned absolutely vast in a live setting. The band also incorporated beautifully arranged brass instruments into the live show, and with the minimal lights, it made the show feel that much more dreamy.  

Next was the steady, Springsteen-esque “Red Eyes,” accompanied by a deep red set of pulsating lights. A pleasant surprise of the War on Drugs’ live show was their excellent usage of synthesizers. Ranging in sounds, the melodic striking waves similar to New Order, to straight buzzsaw leads, they were unexpected and, most importantly, enjoyable.  

Throughout the night, you could tell the crowd was having a great time, but were watching and enjoying the moment rather than getting unruly, which makes sense; asking for rowdiness at a War on Drugs show would be like asking people to gently sway and nod during a Run the Jewels show. Still, there was a slight hint of discomfort between songs; bits of stage banter and a few jokes from the band, more or less, fell flat.  

As the setlist ended with new cuts like “Strangest Thing,” and the staple “Eyes to the Wind,” the band’s encore performance was oddly cut short. During “Under the Pressure,” and seemingly out of nowhere, Granduciel tore his guitar off, held it by it’s bridge, and threw it into the barricade between the band and the audience, ultimately running offstage. See, it’s not unusual for bands to have a dramatic exit, but it is odd when they do it during a usual three-song encore. Was it due to technical difficulties, or frustration from a lulling crowd? It was hard to tell. Still, tossing a guitar off of a stage dangerously close to the crowd doesn’t seem typical for  “dad rock.”  

Check out the remaining 2017 tour dates for The War on Drugs.

Read next: 

In this article