Somewhere mid-set, as the harmonica wailed the intro to “Arms like Boulders”, the opening track from 2008’s Wagonwheel Blues, it became clear that no number of technical issues would diminish the joy of the evening’s performance.
The night, however, would not start so strong. From a straight technical standpoint, the War on Drugs performance at La Maroquinerie in Paris could be considered one very shaky step above a mess. There was a sense that at any moment the sound could dissolve into a pile of crackling wires, amps and pedals. However, the band’s lack of interest in the matter only lent their rambling, “go with the flow” style of music just a touch more authenticity. But really, who among us came for technical precision anyway? To be focused on such an issue would be missing the point entirely.
The band did attempt to come out of the gates strong, opening with “Best Night” from their record Slave Ambient, an album that, deservingly, made more than a few “best of” record lists last year. Unfortunately, it would become a casualty of the aforementioned early part of the evening.
It was a bit like an old used car that just needed a push to get moving but once the engine kicked in, it purred. The thump of “Come to the City”, the driving pulse of “Your Love is Calling My Name”. It soon became a testament to the notion that good rock music will be a bit messy.
The majority of the material came from Slave Ambient, but the performance overall felt and sounded much more akin to 2008’s Wagonwheel Blues. The slickness of the newest record was nowhere to be found but in its place was a more ramshackle and cluttered sound; one that definitely works for a band that specializes in wandering, road trip anthems.
“Black Water Falls”, the last track from the new record, was a welcome surprise. While it’s a tired reference, it’s near impossible to escape the comparison between frontman Adam Granduciel’s vocals and Bob Dylan, not so much in sound but in cadence. Much like Dylan, his drawl seemed to enjoy creating new vocal pacing to his songs. On “Black Water Falls”, his lilting vocals seemed at home a half step behind its normal time. At one point someone from the crowded room shouted out, “Freebird”. Yes, even Paris is not immune to idiot Americans yelling out “Freebird” at concerts. Granduciel’s response was, “we don’t do “Freebird”, we do Floyd though.”
So went the story of the show. Like the music, the performance came across like it was just passing through. Some surely left feeling a bit underwhelmed. However, for anyone who has experienced the sensation of just passing through, well then everything about the evening was just right.