Weird isn’t it, that the so-called “Land of The Automobile” is probably the last place on earth you’d associate with the musical term ‘motorik’? But if there was ever a US band to redress that, arguably it’s Philadelphia's The War on Drugs whose dazzling latest ‘Slave Ambient’ combines gauzy, shoegaze inspired drone-scapes and unashamed nods to classic rock with the insistent, thrumming, mechanised pulse synonymous with Krautrock royalty Can and Neu.
Ungainly as it might sound - it’s a remarkably good fit; imagine a, glassy eyed, whacked-out Tom Petty cruising top-down along Route 66 with a glove box stuffed with downers. Or swap the blur of lush Alpine forests and the gentle curve of crisp asphalt with the blasted expanse of Joshua Tree Park and visually at least, you’re part way there.
Coming into the last show of a three week European tour - their second extended outing since ‘Slave Ambient’’s release - the band are on indisputable, battle hardened form. Despite some dubious crunching from one bit of road wracked gear as they take to the stage, from opener ‘Best Night’’s very first cascading arpeggio onwards they sound slick and fiendishly tight with a pristine sound mix making the very most of Corsica’s sparkling PA and sympathetic acoustics.
‘Taking The Farm’ and ‘Coming Through’ from last year’s ‘Future Weather EP’ showcase their stoic rhythm section; each groove is subtle and exquisitely nuanced but powerful and driving nonetheless. Singer/guitarist Adam Granduciel on the other hand is ready to cut loose a little, occasionally mangling his melodies, throwing his guitar about and bantering gamely - evidently up for it on the last stop of the tour. He joshes with the the road crew and the rest of the band, does birthday shout outs and dedicates songs to their driver, old friends, Coventry (no really) and Uncut magazine’s Allan Jones; quite possibly securing ‘Slave Ambient’’s ‘Album of The Year’ patronage with one shrewd, though undoubtedly sincere gesture.
However, the bonhomie goes a little too far when an audience member is hauled up onstage to strum along with ‘Brothers’. Watching him labour through its rudimentary three chord mantra (left handed on a right hand strung guitar) is distracting to say the least. As too is the set’s peculiar pacing that juxtaposes wheezing stompers like ‘Baby Missiles’ against the sprawling, meditative ‘I Was there’ and the Dylan-esque strumalong of ‘Arms Like Boulders’. Amongst it all, the band never quite achieve the mesmeric critical mass that their records do and you can’t help feeling that they have failed to play to their strengths in that regard.
Nevertheless there are innumerable highlights, Granduciel’s lilting harmonica during trippy segue-way ‘The Animator’ and the gentle sway and tug of ‘Black Water Falls’ are both enthralling. Mostly though the main attraction is Granduciel’s breathtaking guitar work, all tumbling arpeggios and rippling solos that appear to pull fistfuls of micro melodies and twinkling hooks from out of thin air; elsewhere he works up meticulous layers of tightly woven and coils them all together to give the impression of a multitude of guitarists layering up the mix.
The War On Drugs - Live, Corsica Studios, Tues 27th October, Jim Brackpool