Review: The War on Drugs at O2 Apollo Manchester

  • American rock group The War on Drugs play two consecutive nights at the O2 Apollo Manchester.
  • NQ's Tom Green attended the second night.

The War on Drugs have visited Manchester so many times over the past nine years that they apparently now have their own favourite café where they hang out between shows.

On this second of two nights at the Apollo, lead singer Adam Granduciel spelled out their appreciation of Manchester in his thick American twang.

What is absolutely mind-blowing about watching The War on Drugs live is witnessing first-hand how they simply breeze through the immensely complicated nature of each track with ease; something which us mere mortals in the crowd could only ever dream of.

The layers upon layers of tricky guitar riffs, thoughtful basslines, licks of the keyboard and hums on the harmonica in songs very rarely shorter than six minutes in length are nothing less than spectacular.

Marrying influences from the likes of Dylan and Springsteen, their calming sound accompanies more thought provoking lyrics about life, love and loss and attracts a more mature following than a lot of the bands I have seen in the past.

I’m hooked – and have been for some time – but I can’t, for the life of me, understand why more people under 30 don’t seem to get ‘it’.

Maybe it’s because they lack the live energy and attitude of say, Kasabian, or the fact there isn’t a single Gallagher haircut between them; I don’t know.

Certainly there was only one brief episode of bouncing among the crowd on Monday – during fan favourite Red Eyes, as the hall flooded appropriately with red light.

The group kicked off the night unexpectedly with a tour debut of Come to the City, from their 2011 album A Slave Ambient – a rather strange decision considering they had opened with new song In Chains on Sunday.

A pair from new album A Deeper Understanding followed: first Pain and then the more upbeat Holding On, my favourite from the album; a pleasant canter through carefully structured sequences, soaring guitars and keyboards mirroring Granduciel’s Springsteen-esque vocals.

It could have gone on for 20 minutes, and I don’t believe many would have complained if it had.

Watching The War on Drugs evokes a strange mix of emotion. On the surface, the music is positive but accompanies Granduciel’s cries of pain, loss and the reality of life.

It is the soundtrack of travels. A perfect example of this is In Chains, with its blend of keyboards and guitars leaving a thoughtful passenger glaring at the open road ahead, arm resting on the ledge.

Live, with psychedelic pink, yellow and purple washing the stage, this was a real performance – the stuff of goosebumps even. 

Throw in Granduciel’s highly intelligent lyrics and soothing voice and you can literally feel your spine tingling amid contemplation of life; alone worth the £30 ticket fee.

An Ocean in Between the Waves also makes up the ride before Under the Pressure steals the Monday night show in one of the greatest musical performances I have ever witnessed.
It’s music to listen to while you’re on a journey – both physically and mentally – and if you’re not yet aboard The War on Drugs bus, then get on it quickly. ​