On a cool November evening, I left the solitude of my flat, South of the river to venture North to the Alexandra Palace to witness a rare spectacle. The War on Drugs, one of America’s finest musical exports were doing a whistle-stop tour of the UK taking in Glasgow, Manchester, London and Portsmouth before heading off to the rest of Europe, America and Australasia after the festive holidays.
As I approached the venue, I was taken back by its sheer vastness, it really was huge! The walk around the perimeter seemed like forever and I was glad when I finally reached the box office to collect my ticket.
Upon entering the venue, I walked into a main area that was littered with food establishments and a bar that seemed to span the entire length of one wall, there was certainly no chance that you were going to go hungry tonight in the Ally Pally with such a wide choice of food on offer, waffles, burrito’s, pancakes, burgers, hot dogs, there really was something for everyone!
Owing to the arduous journey taking in 3 tube trains, I was keen to catch the last half of the support band The Barr Brothers, so in I walked to the main arena to find a spot and see what was happening.
After checking on The Barr Brothers’ Facebook page, I saw a number of members, I think I counted 7 but for tonight’s performance there were 5 musicians on stage including a harpist…. Their sound was full of Country infused twangy goodness, some immense atmospheric slide guitar and finger picked notes really helped to set the scene, allowing the rest of the band to do what they do best. They class their sound as ‘”Sci-Folk” with “Mysterious Roots”, I admit, there was a little ‘strangeness’ about their sound but accompanying any strangeness was a large dollop of well thought out, well written and excellently executed alt-country which was being lapped up by anyone fortunate enough to be in the room to witness it. I could even hear hints of The War on Drugs in their sound as well which, seeing as they are supporting them on the tour can never be a bad thing! The whole band were on form, all playing their parts really well and I cannot wait to see if these guys sound as good on record as they do on stage and as they’re currently on album #4, I’ve got plenty of material to immerse myself in!
After a short intermission, it was time for the main event, people seemed to pour in from every doorway and it wasn’t long until the Ally Pally was fit to burst.
An impressive lightshow accompanied their opener “In Chains”, I’ve always said that their music has a real sense of motion about it, the repetitive drumbeat, the driving bass and keys just set the scene perfectly for Adam Granduciel to overlay his golden tones and exquisite guitar playing.
Riding high from the release of their 4th studio album A Deeper Understanding which charted within the top ten in 17 countries worldwide, they were keen to air as many of the new tracks but it was the classics that kept the audience on a steady simmer throughout the evening, erupting at the key moments of the set as I will explain later.
Adam’s technical setup was immense, I swear there were more effects pedals around his feet than my local music store has on sale, if this is what he needs in order to achieve the sound that he gets, then I’m all for it!
“Pain” brought things down a little on stage, the band bathed in subtle lighting with the dry ice hitting the beams which in turn, created an incredible purple/pink aura around the band, the solo reverberated around the room, touching everyone’s soul in the process, utterly spellbinding stuff.
That motoric beat was back for “Holding On”, the feeling of rolling along a railway line at speed came to mind, watching the urban sprawl dissipate as you moved into the countryside. The power didn’t subside for one minute as they went straight into “An Ocean In Between the Waves”, the guitar solo sounded incredible and the fact that it went on for so long was sublime. The whole thing should have exploded but instead, it just kept building, more power, brighter lights until it came to a crashing halt, a nanosecond of silence before the deafening roar from the audience took over.
I know I’m going to sound like a real miserable old bastard now but it was a pleasant treat not to look up and see a barrage of phones and iPads being held aloft, recording every living and breathing second of the band whilst on stage, instead, the room stood and WATCHED the show, did you hear that kids, they WATCHED, with their own eyes! I guess people of my age (and older) know that the best way to experience something is to be there and soak it all in, let it all wash over you, instead of trying to relive the moment through a shaky blurred image, accompanied by a tinny soundtrack to enjoy whilst watching on the school bus the next morning!
I was trying to keep up with the array of guitars that Adam used, I think I saw the following;
A Fender Jaguar, a Gretsch, an acoustic, a Fender Stratocaster and a Gibson Les Paul (possibly a Thunderbird as well….or was I dreaming?), each weapon used to produce the required sound for every song, the way he adapted to each was a pure master-class in itself.
“Thinking of a Place” and “Under the Pressure” sounded faultless, the latter with it’s immense off kilter drums sounding like thousands of tiny ball bearings slowly coming together found its groove and immediately got the place jumping. Smoke filled the stage as the guitars layered their sounds on top of each other, Adam was punishing his Fender Jaguar, grinding that whammy bar like there was no tomorrow, utterly compelling from the very first note to the hanging feedback that Adam left us with as the band exited the stage for a few moments to catch their breath prior to rejoining the room for a 3 song encore which consisted of “In Reverse”, “Eyes to the Wind’ and “Burning”. The show culminated in a dazzling light show, Adam introduced each member before holding his guitar aloft and leaving the stage for the final time this evening.
If Carlsberg did live gigs, this would be it, 10/10 all day long!
If you missed them this time around, you’ll be relived to hear that they’ll be playing at All Points East Festival at Victoria Park on June 2nd 2018 alongside some stunning acts such as The National, Future Islands, Warpaint and many more yet to be announced.
An Ocean in Between the Waves
Nothing to Find
Buenos Aires Beach
Come to the City
Thinking of a Place
Under the Pressure
Review by Steve Muscutt