THE WAR ON DRUGS

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  • Amen Dunes
Harvest Sun & Liverpool Music Week @ O2 Academy 16/2/15

As a project that has gradually mutated into a full-on band concern over the past half-decade, New Yorkers AMEN DUNES have steadily accrued a cult following. Now expanded to a three-piece, last year’s excellent Love LP saw Damon McMahon’s crew score the best reviews of their career. Strongly redolent of Cowboy Junkies and Mazzy Star, Amen Dunes’ rustic psychedelia proves a spot-on complement to the headliners, reaching a peak on Lonely Richard and Lilac In Hand.

“What’s the name of that club here, the one with the balcony? …The Kazimier?” chief Druggist Adam Granduciel enquires a few tracks in. Almost exactly three years ago THE WAR ON DRUGS did indeed play The Kaz while touring Slave Ambient, the album that saw the Philadelphians decisively edge overground. Come 2015 and delayed from the original November date, the troupe are at the Academy to play Lost In The Dream, the album that scooped more positive critical notices than any other in 2014.

The band open with instrumental trawl The Haunting Idle, which bleeds into a driving take on Burning; the Dylan-esque Arms Like Boulders played third is a sly curveball as songs from 2008 debut LP Wagonwheel Blues are rarely played live. Released back when the band were still stitching their sound together, the track is re-tooled from its original incarnation to slot seamlessly into the set.

 

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Now exhibiting far greater confidence as a frontman, Granduciel’s recent interview statement that the hard slog of touring has greatly improved him as a guitarist is clearly evident. Able to effortlessly boss the material without losing sight of the original songs, proceedings are aided massively by a shit-hot bassist who instinctively knows when to simply follow the chords and when to let rip with improvisatory flourishes.

Assembled from keyboard patinas that hark back to Springsteen’s mid-eighties albums alongside endlessly repeating Spacemen 3-style synth motifs, the tracks effectively provide huge canvases to be redrawn into whatever form the band see fit. Moving from processed beats to live drums, courtesy of a sticksman behind a honeycombed-effect kit, the transition in An Ocean In Between The Waves is revelatory, outdoing even the studio version as a wealth of new basslines send the track stratospheric.

Red Eyes, firmly installed as the band’s best-known song to date, is greeted with huge cheers at the first sign of the intro’s synthesized strings while the now famous yelp that kicks the band into full gear triggers mass delirium. With the recently added baritone sax giving greater emphasis to the songs’ foundations, a stunning solo break towards the close of Eyes To The Wind pushes the track into exotic new pastures.

A superb cover of All Things Must Pass gem Beware Of Darkness played late on makes George Harrison’s song sound like a WOD composition, while a rapturously received Baby Missiles highlights Tom Petty’s influence and the Americana thread that runs throughout Granduciel’s work generally.  By contrast, kosmische rhythms and shoegazing textures come to the fore on Your Love Is Calling My Name as Granduciel manipulates the FX boxes at his feet into waves of overlapping feedback. The mammoth, almost two-hour set extends right up to the 11pm curfew; an encore is demanded but time constraints unfortunately prevail. Gig of the year so far? Indubitably. Gig of the year all told? Chances are.

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