Who will save rock and roll? That’s the question that everyone likes to discuss, and whether you are talking to Liam Gallagher or The Killers or Marilyn Manson, everyone has an opinion on where rock is headed and how rock can be redeemed. And if you’re going to talk about contemporary rock and roll, The War on Drugs are often brought up as a band fighting the good fight. Sure, they make guitar music at a time when it isn’t fashionable, but so do a lot of bands. No, it’s not that the Philadelphia-based band stares at the incoming tidal wave and doesn’t waver, it’s that they act like there isn’t a tsunami at all.
At a nearly sold-out Greek Theatre on Thursday night, there was something matter-of-fact about the way the band composed themselves. The set began with little fanfare as the half-dozen members casually picked up their instruments and covered Tom Petty’s “Time to Move On”, honoring the recently departed icon with a faithful deep cut, allowing the timelessness of the tune to speak for itself. In fact, that’s The War on Drugs’ M.O., where oftentimes the music doesn’t even need lyrics to convey its deepest emotions. When nearly every song ends with an extended jam and guitar solo, the musical swells have to mean something. But in the hands of The War on Drugs, each choice of a guitar tone or a harmonica note is purposeful and deliberate.
Because rock won’t be preserved by accident. Frontman Adam Granduciel doesn’t need to spout off about the merits of having six members on stage collaborating in the moment. The music speaks for that on its own. All the band needs to do is execute. Backed by a stunning light rig that sparkled and shifted moods with the rhythm, the ebb and flow of Granduciel’s compositions were milked for every bit of drama that they can hold.
Still, the best part of The War on Drugs’ pair of recent classics, Lost in the Dream and A Deeper Understanding, is that they don’t feel like they are fighting an uphill battle. When The War on Drugs were on the festival circuit, it wasn’t to provide a change of pace between bigger spectacles. They treat every stage like it’s where they belong. And though the band thrives in a studio setting, a big part of the live show hinges on just how precise they sound. It’s enough to get hoots out of the bro-y rock hounds for each guitar god solo, sure, but even the most base level of the band’s appeal isn’t dumbed down for canned-beer consumption. It’s great because it doesn’t try to save rock and roll. It’s great because it acts like rock doesn’t need saving.