June 14, 2015


Bonnaroo Standout: The War on Drugs

I love the War on Drugs because the piano lines in all of their songs sound like the outro of "Layla." I love the War on Drugs because lead singer Adam Granduciel is always singing about the wind, the freeway by the harbor, a raging storm, or some sun-sunk, picturesque location ripped straight out of a John Steinbeck novel. I love the War on Drugs because they're the kind of band you can bond with your dad over when you both finally admit to each other that you smoke pot. I love the War on Drugs because they hit squarely upon an emotional center within me, something I can best describe as hopeful reminiscence. I love the War on Drugs because they make me feel present and nostalgic all at once. 

The War on Drugs took to Bonnaroo's Which Stage early on Saturday evening fresh off of signing their first major label deal with Atlantic Records. Up until now, they've blasted through a massive year-plus of world touring following the release of 2014's absurdly good Lost in the Dream. Maybe I'm just over contextualizing it, but their set felt in some way celebratory of all this. 

Maritza Navarro for Fuse
Maritza Navarro for Fuse

They began their set with "Arms Like Boulders" off of 2008's Wagonwheel Blues as if to remind everyone "look how fucking far we've come." And with the very first snare-to-tom rolls barreling into the intro, that very familiar feeling came rushing back to me like a specific smell, some oddly synesthetic response to hearing the timelessness of their music. 

Perhaps nothing represents what the War on Drugs can do to someone than the guy perpetually losing his shit in front of me: tie-dye shirt, headband, green sneakers, arms in the air, hopping up and down to the tempo with an unmovable and permanently wide grin, high-fiving everyone within his circumference upon the birth of each new guitar solo. This guy is Bonnaroo at its very essence: lost in the music, lost in himself, (lost in a dream?), nothing else matters. 

The War on Drugs were made for festivals like these. Be aware of what ails you, but at least for this hour-long set, just stop fucking worrying.  

Maritza Navarro for Fuse
Maritza Navarro for Fuse

Most of the band's songs grow using slow, steady, drawn-out builds, gradually ramping up the intensity as the song moves from passage-to-passage. This makes the War on Drugs perfect for a festival with jam band origins like Bonnaroo, whose core audience loves nothing more than dudes ripping on guitar louder and louder until ears are bleeding, feet are hopping, and mouths are "woo"ing. It also helps that Granduciel himself can't help but let out a wildly unhinged  "WOO" every few minutes. 

The entirety of their set is in itself a gradual build, too. The songs seem to get longer and longer and the solos get louder and louder. Granduciel switches guitars at least every couple songs, as if he's auditioning each and every one of them to see which of them might be "the one." 

They're a patient band, using the beginnings and ends of songs to bring in reverb-soaked, symphonic swells. This is the perfect soundtrack to an outdoor Bonnaroo set in the waning hours of the sun's presence. They're exciting but not jarring, introspective yet exuberant. 

Maritza Navarro for Fuse
Maritza Navarro for Fuse

Preceding their signing to Atlantic, Apple's Jimmy Iovine said, "they should be gigantic." If anyone deserves it, it's them. The War on Drugs are an important band, but it's not because some corporate titan thinks they should be more popular. They're important because their music triggers specific memories that are unique to every one of us, yet somehow unified by virtue of what those memories mean to us. The more people their music reaches, the better off we'll all be. 


  1. Arms Like Boulders
  2. Burning
  3. An Ocean in Between the Waves
  4. Buenos Aires Beach
  5. Red Eyes
  6. Eyes to the Wind
  7. Under the Pressure
  8. In Reverse
  9. Your Love is Calling My Name