The War On Drugs go it alone at mesmerizing SF gig | REVIEW – RIFF

The War On Drugs perform at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium in San Francisco on Feb. 25, 2022. Steve Carlson/STAFF.
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SAN FRANCISCO — It was an evening billed as a “A Night of Live Drugs,” with The War On Drugs skipping an opening act at Bill Graham Civic Auditorium, reportedly as a means to lower the size of the traveling party.
The Philadelphia rock band instead pulled out a mammoth 21-song set that ran upward of two and a half hours. It can be risky to go in front of a cold audience and even some empty seats.
“We’ve been looking forward to this one the whole time,” vocalist Adam Granduciel said to welcome attendees. “It’s been a long road.”
The night began casually, with The War On Drugs walking on stage to little fanfare and rolling right into “Old Skin.” The gig is part of the band’s tour for I Don’t Live Here Anymore, which is where the majority of the night’s material, nine songs, came from. The band kept things simple for the most of the night, churning out terrific alt-rock-meets-jam-band rock and roll.
The War On Drugs perform at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium in San Francisco on Feb. 25, 2022.
The band moved into “An Ocean Between the Waves” with some extended saxophone, then onto the slick harmonies of “I Don’t Wanna Wait.” The relaxed vibe translated to fans, who danced on the floor, in the aisles, in the concession lines; basically anywhere they may have been wandering through the venue (which on this night was illuminated in blue and yellow to honor Ukraine, locked in a bitter war with invading Russia).
Adam Granduciel kept his stage banter relatively limited, beyond thanking the crowd for its enthusiasm, though he did take an extended moment to thank the band’s crew for its work during the tour. He acknowledged that touring during COVID “wasn’t easy,” but said it was a testament to the crew that the tour successfully went off without any major incident or illness.
The stage design was deceivingly simple, with tiered risers to make sure every member of the seven-member band was clearly visible. The lightning effectively conveyed the tone of each passing track, anywhere from a moody dark hue to pointed beams and flashing lines and patterns. Granduciel introduced the remaining members of the band throughout the night and more than once spoke highly of the city in which the band was playing.
The War On Drugs perform at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium in San Francisco on Feb. 25, 2022.
“It’s great to be back in San Francisco,” he said. “It’s the pleasure of a lifetime.”
The War On Drugs was awash in orange flashing spotlights for “Harmonia’s Dream,” one of the many songs that found the band mixing in jam-inspired passages. The band also mixed in a cover of Bob Dylan’s “Born In Time” early on in the set.
“We love playing this one these days,” Granduciel said.
The band was tight throughout the night, despite the lengthened set, and the harmonies elevated the live versions of tracks like “Your Love Is Calling My Name” and “Change.” One of the biggest reactions of the night came from the bouncy “Under the Pressure,” which had nearly the entire venue bobbing up and down.
The group closed out the main set with “In Chains” before returning for a trifecta encore of “Ocean of Darkness,” “Lost in the Dream” and “Occasional View.” Given the number of major events happening in the world, it would have been easy to stay home or not show enthusiasm, but the San Francisco crowd delivered on all fronts.
Follow writer Mike DeWald at Twitter.com/mike_dewald. Follow photographer Steve Carlson at Instagram.com/SteveCarlsonSF and Twitter.com/SteveCarlsonSF.
Mike DeWald is a Northern California journalist and producer. He has been a radio mainstay behind the scenes for more than a decade, beginning his career as an intern at Santa Rosa’s 101.7 The Fox and has since produced KSRO’s “The Drive with Steve Jaxon” drive-time radio show since 2008, covering news, music, pop culture, politics and more. Mike has contributed to a number of digital music podcasts and publications including the Rock’N Vino Podcast and The Download Parlor. He is an avid live music fan and photographer.
Thanks for your thorough review. I was there and enjoyed the show a great deal. The band played their hearts out, and I was fortunate to be seated front and center balcony. Believe me, I'm no expert in concert sound, so this question is genuine: Did the sound mix often seem overly heavy on bass, to the point of uncomfortable distortion, or should that perception be blamed on the acoustics at the Civic? Or am I just getting old? lol
I enjoyed the show too, and I hope to see them again. I’ll second you on the mix: Unfortunately the rich, layered sound the band normally has, which you could hear in spots because they are capable live performers, got lost in the mix. It was corrected somewhat by the time they played “I Don’t Wanna Wait,” although never fully. I’m no sound expert either, but I was disappointed on the band’s behalf.
Thanks, Kay. I appreciate you validating my perception. I wondered if it was just me. I, too, feel bad for the band because they are such amazing musicians.
I agree 100%. We never ever leave concerts early but we checked out at 9:30. So disappointed in the sound tech. The band is incredible. Sorry I missed Under Pressure but I’m guessing it was lost in the terrible sound engineering anyway. I’ll buy one of their vinyl albums any day but will pass on the live performances after that experience. Too bad. ☹️
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