The War on Drugs settled in Baltimore on May 29th over the Memorial Day weekend, and wrapped the captivated crowd in a warm, soothing embrace of music.
The Pier Six Pavilion (now called the MECU Pavilion) was brimming with expectation and a sort of hushed reverence for a band that I’ve been hoping to see for many years. This was my first live foray into one of The War on Drug’s epic performances. Hopefully it will not be the last, as they delivered on any and every expectation the fans might have entertained.
The Pier Six Pavilion may be without rival in the area as an outdoor venue. It doesn’t seem too big (yet the capacity is 4,600), and you are literally right in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, where you can peek out at a delightful sea and cityscape while sipping on cold suds or cocktails. Adam Granduciel of The War on Drugs (vocals, guitar) seemed to agree as he at one point exclaimed, “Sounds great in here, we love it here!”. There was no opening band, and at first it seemed like the band would be playing to a mostly empty venue, but everyone decided to show up last minute, right about 8pm, to fill out the place, which is why I suspect they went on a little late.
Once the newcomers were settled, they kicked off their 17-song set with “Old Skin”, from their fifth studio album I Don’t Live Here Anymore (via Atlantic Records) released in 2021. They played eight songs (of 10) from the new album, so half the show was about highlighting the new music, a worthy endeavor as I’ve been listening to the album on repeat for awhile now.
Next they played one of my absolute favorite songs of any band in the last 5 years, “Pain” from 2017’s A Deeper Understanding. After the sweet introduction, I began to feel the warm hug taking effect.
The band hails from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and formed in 2005, and is seven strong: Adam, David Hartley (bass), Robbie Bennett (keyboards), Jon Natchez (saxophone, keyboards), Charlie Hall (drums), Anthony LaMarca (guitar) and Eliza Hardy (keyboards).
The stage was jammed back with two levels of instruments, each band member in their own zone. There were three giant armoires stage right, filled with guitars, gear and who knows what else. Someone was always grabbing something to take somewhere on stage. Adam gave a shout out to the crew near the end of the show, thanking them for their hard work in assembling and taking down this very complicated stage set-up. He also joked, ‘The crew brings this shit in, and brings this shit out. And we let them share a cup of yogurt.’
“Red Eyes”, from 2014’s Lost in a Dream, gave the lucky few in the small VIP floor section, directly in front of the stage, reason to dance to the drum line, and get a little crazy during the guitar jam choruses.
“Harmonia’s Dream” has an urgent beat that holds you tight for its six-plus minute run-time. One of the cool elements of this show was the smoke machine made a constant haze around the seven musicians in their zone. Fans and stage lights induced a tableau of vibrant, sometimes eerie, colors. Orange was highlighted as they jammed, providing an absolute stunning backdrop for this atmospheric song about ending a long-term relationship. The drummer Charlie’s wild hair stood out from the wind, like a mad scientist in fog.
“I Don’t Live Here Anymore”, the title track of the new album and a great single, includes the vocalists of Lucius (Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig) singing backing vocals in the chorus. Unfortunately, Lucius didn’t join them at Pier Six, but the upbeat guitars and soaring melodies still shined through. The song’s story line is complex, but can be summarized by not living in the past and moving forward with as much vigor as possible.
They closed out the main set with “Occasional Rain”, which seems to speak to finding your place and staying centered there, and when anything bad happens it’s occasional and temporary. This is one of the few songs that doesn’t get grander in scope as it progresses, just a quiet tale, without a chorus.
They came back with three songs in encore, finishing with a cover of Neil Young’s “Like a Hurricane”. As their musical embrace slowly lifted, the crowd came out of their daze of happiness and dispersed down the pier and out into the real world with as much vigor as possible.
The War on Drugs’ show proved to be everything one could hope for, a magical evening. Next time they come through the DC area (they last played at The Anthem in February), make sure you are there.
Also, I highly recommend you acquire (or at least listen to) I Don’t Live Here Anymore immediately!
- Old Skin
- Nothing to Find
- I Don’t Wanna Wait
- Strangest Thing
- Red Eyes
- Living Proof
- Harmonia’s Dream
- Born in Time (Bob Dylan cover)
- Come to the City
- Under the Pressure
- I Don’t Live Here Anymore
- Occasional Rain
- Wasted (I think, though there is some debate it could be “Ocean of Darkness”)
- Lost in a Dream
- Like a Hurricane (Neil Young cover)