The War on Drugs are an unlikely obsession. Revolving around Philadelphian musician Adam Granduciel, the band's previous exploits never caused too much of a ripple on this side of the creek. Only after carving grooves through Kurt Vile's latest effort Smoke Ring For My Halo did curiosity get the best of me—after all, Vile is one of Granduciel's buds, and a former member of TWOD. Though the two are now split on a day-to-day level, both TWOD and Vile and his Violaters belong to some new Philly hype grounded in classic American songwriting, amp busting riffage, and a curiosity for odd, hypnotic turns of air and atmosphere on the recordings they lay down.
Granduciel's take on this style is best captured on his new album Slave Ambient, released last week via Secretly Canadian Records. It's a fitting title scratched across a multi-colored hue of an album cover. Ganduciel is an apparent production obsessive, spending four years laboring on the compounded layers of sound that hums like highflying airplanes, often blasting apart the structural integrity of his songs in all the right ways. His time, effort, and commitment to craft give Slave Ambient its aural allure, and recently necessitated a live encounter with the four-piece outfit tapped to recreate the songs in the flesh.
This past weekend, packed past capacity, Cameo provided the cramped and quartered setting for the bands sprawling, 75 + minute jam through both Slave Ambient and heaps of earlier material (Wagonwheel Blues, Future Weather). Backed by the basics (drums, bass, keys, and here and there, acoustics), the album's billowy packaging sounded stout and leathery when ripped open and presented for a bunch of boozed up Brooklynites on a late summer evening.
Though a bit of blur in the moment, recollecting highlights from the night would prove to be an easy task. "Best Night" lead the way, signaling any folk flourishes favored on record were decidedly left somewhere back home in Philadelphia. Slave Ambient centerpiece "Come To The City" behaved in mysterious ways, ditching the slow build and burn of its recording for something more immediate; a muscular, six or seven minute smash of the drums, cymbals, and distorted righteousness. Future Weather highlight, "Coming Through" also left an impression, its' electric noodles wrangling their way through a cloud of reverb and rhythmic chug. And finally "Baby Missles", a song that sounds sourced from a drunken dance with The Boss, also made a colossal mark. These were jams worthy of the band's stylishly, unkempt appearance; tour weary button downs, busted sneaks, crusty jeans, and a couple of messy mops (Granduciel's in particular) to boot.
All told, the band's show was a highflying affair, though one that stands in stark contrast to the record that's been looping on repeat since its release last week. Slave Ambient is a deliberate piece of love and labor, mastered and perfected over the course of its creation, with infinite potential to inspire. The band's show is raw and kinetic in the moment, something that's unmatched night to night, something new in The War on Drugs to obsess over.