We headed for London on a rainy Tuesday night in May to the Koko, just a brief walk from Mornington Crescent tube station, for what promised to be one of the highlights of the year: The War On Drugs (Lost In The Dream tour). The venue, formally a theatre, cinema and BBC studio, hosted The Goons and Monty Python’s Flying Circus back in the day before it became the Camden Palace in the 80s, to be renovated in 2004 into the magnificent music hall it is today. So, after queuing in the drizzle and failing to recognise members of support band Quilt heading for the VIP entrance, we hurried inside…
Finding a suitable vantage point on top left walkway in front of the bar, it wasn’t long before Quilt walked on stage for one of their first European (support) gigs, a (now) four-piece band from Boston who have recently released their second album Held In Splendour. The slight (and very cute) Anna Fox Rochinski and imposing (handsome) Shane Butler, banishing guitars and microphones equally, is a delicious combination and the band made the most of their short support slot. Songs from Held In Splendour featured heavily including the brilliant Arctic Shark and Tie Up The Tides, and live the band added a vibrancy and energy lacking on the record.
During the break, the usual sound checks took place and we had our first glimpse of the mighty Adam Granduciel with his unkempt hair, sorting out his guitars and peddles. And then the band took to the stage. Granduciel has recently described The War On Drugs as a ‘one man band’ which is a huge disservice to David Hartley, Robbie Bennett and Charlie Hall. Given the intimate song-writing of latest album Lost In The Dream, we all know what he means but this was a massive performance by the quartet. The set was a curious mix of previous masterpiece Slave Ambient and most of Lost In The Dream, with new arrangements of the former framing the newer songs. It (mostly) worked, in that Slave Ambient works beautifully as a single end-to-end album; ebbing and flowing as it glides between familiar sounds and themes, constantly revisiting itself. So, within the more stand-alone Lost In The Dream tracks, songs like Brothers, Some To The City and Baby Missiles added a strange, yet wonderful, glue.
Granduciel’s guitar work throughout was especially sublime, as was Charlie Hall’s ferocious drumming. The big highlights were Burning, Under The Pressure (without the unnecessary prolonged outro of the original) and the perfect Eyes Top The Wind. The encore provided the night’s big surprise: starting with a cover of John Lennon’s Mind Games, which was quite amazing. The depth of songs from two great albums made this one of the best sets of any gig I’ve experienced. A great night at an iconic venue.
-- CS (with JC)