Rock bands may not dominate the popular music landscape today like they did in the late 20th century, but hearing The War on Drugs provides enough evidence to confirm that rock isn’t dead.
The Philadelphia group has been been active for nearly two decades now, gradually growing into one of America’s most compelling live acts. Their 75-minute set Saturday at the Austin City Limits Music Festival was perfectly timed for just after sunset: The War on Drugs’ darkly colorful wash of guitars and keyboards was an ideal soundtrack for twilight’s gradual fade over Zilker Park.
More:All your ACL Fest 2022 questions, answered
Their brand of rock is less about the raw power of guitars, bass and drums, though that element has its place in what they do. The key to The War on Drugs’ sound is atmospherics, an observation that’s obvious enough when you notice that more than half the band members play some form of keyboards, from piano to organ to synth.
At the center is frontman and primary songwriter Adam Granduciel, who took over the helm when early member Kurt Vile left for a fruitful solo career in 2009. Granduciel’s richly melodic voice blends into the instrumentation more than it rides above the top, though a good sound mix on Saturday meant we could almost always hear his lyrics as well.
Fittingly for a group that blends elements of psychedelia into music that’s not really jam-band fare but does allow for some stretching out, the songs gravitate toward longer explorations. A comparison: Earlier in the day, The Ventures cruised through 10 songs in about 40 minutes, while the War on Drugs played the same number of songs in a set that was nearly twice as long.
More:Our review of the Ventures at ACL Fest 2022
They played material from four of their five albums, with a focus on the two most recent releases. Expect an even deeper dive into last year’s “I Don’t Live Here Anymore” when The War on Drugs tapes the “Austin City Limits” TV show on Oct. 16. (It’s the second time they’ve appeared on the show; the first was in 2015.) They’ll also be back at the festival next weekend in the same time slot of 7:15 p.m. Saturday on the T-Mobile stage.