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“Glued to a Catchers Mitt” The War On Drugs / Bowery Ballroom

March 22, 2014

Written by: Jasen Ribadenera

Glued to a Catchers Mitt

The War On Drugs

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Bowery Ballroom 3/20/14

The War On Drugs played three sold out shows in NYC. I happened to catch the second performance and just like the middle child in a family of five, it was eager to please, well-practiced, and comfortably aloof – not that there’s anything wrong with that. These are, after all, some pretty heavy cats we’re talking about here.

 

Doors were at 8PM and we arrived at the Bowery Ballroom at a responsible 8:30 sharp. I immediately cut a graceful beeline towards the merch booth in hopes of acquiring the purple vinyl pressing of their new album Lost In The Dream but alas, no goddamn dice. It’s not that it wasn’t available – it was – but at $35 I just couldn’t swing it. It was, to quote the purple one himself, a sign o’ the times. As I stood there quietly lamenting the fact that I’ve made many a bad financial decision, mostly giving my precious hard earneds to salesman named Miguel and Flaco, I heard a murmured disturbance on the stairs behind me. I turned around to see The War On Drugs’ Adam Granduciel holding court like a made man before three wide eyed and flannelled blondes. They appeared to be in deep discussion weighing the pros and cons of Basset Hounds vs. the English Setter breed and because I hate to knife a good debate I waited until there was a lull in the conversation to introduce myself. “Hey Adam,” I declared with the confidence of someone who recognized him from some recent sparsely attended orgy. “The new record is so good. I bet no one’s said that to you yet, huh?”  His face lit up and he replied “Hey! Yeah, thanks man. Every bit helps.” The first impression one gets from this guy is that he’s a gentleman’s gentleman, the type of guy who would help you move on a day’s notice. I told him how I’d written a review of the new album and compared it to a joy ride in a stolen Ford F-150 pickup truck. “Where’d ya’ hear it?” he asked, seemingly confused as  the record had just come out the day before. I answered simply, “NPR, man. NPR,” hopefully proving that I hadn’t come about it through illegitimate means. He shook his head in agreement, “Oh right, right, that’s right. They streamed it for 24 hours didn’t they?” he asked, almost genuinely not remembering the big feature they just did on him. “Yeah, I listened to it eight times through that day, really getting a feeling for the thing. I was on an Amtrak train at the time and I felt like I really benefited from that. The two go hand in hand. Real train music,” I said, before asking my girlfriend Vals to take a quick picture. “Train music, I like that,” he muttered as Vals pointed out the five cats that were pictured on his shirt. “Yeah, this’ll come off before the show,” he laughed as we made our way up the stairs towards the Ballroom.

 

We maneuvered through a group of what looked like retired Montessori school guidance counselors from Providence, RI without incident and continued on up to the front, stage right of course, and placed our leather jackets down beside a large vocal monitor. The first band up was a kick-out-the-jams-man three piece named Lantern and although they were playing to a crowd of about thirty it didn’t stop them from pulling out every goddamn stop at their disposal like it was their last chance to prove their worth to a post-apocalyptic tribune whose sole job was to decide the fate of longhairs. I kind of got the sense they were paying tribute to the memory of the recently departed Stooges drummer Scott Asheton and all I can say is that he would have been proud, damn proud. Especially when the girl sang. Next up was a group that I’d heard prior to the show and really liked, called White Fence. They were boring. Moving on.

 

The excitement in the room was palpable as Grunduciel walked out, knelt down in an almost worship-like pose and twisted knobs on 3 or 4 of his 26 guitar pedals. The house lights dimmed and like the clicking climb to the first drop on a roller coaster everyone prepared for what was coming. “In Reverse” started it off with what sounded like a lonely blue whale sending an “Is anybody out there?” call into a dark ocean. For several minutes it was just Adam and this swelling hum that vibrated everyone in the room until he approached the mic and sang, “Meet me out in the street / talk about the war with me,” with a thousand yard stare fixed on something or someone presumably up in the rafters.  It was a haunting choice for an opening number and when the dam finally burst and the sound from all 6 band members came flooding out, the hair on the back of my neck spiked. After such an introspective start, the band ripped into “Baby Missiles” with a vengeance and then, and only then, did it finally feel like the first day of Spring like the calendar claimed. During the next song “Under The Pressure” the saxophone player bopped and shifted like a member of Morris Day and the Time while drummer Charlie Hall nailed his mid-song cue wearing what is possibly the meanest, funktified mug I’ve ever witnessed on human expression. When someone in the crowd yelled out that they love his argyle sweater vest he rested his sticks on the snare drum and chuckled in agreement. “You should see what’s under it,” teased Granduciel as he, and everyone else took a breather from such a heavy first 15 minutes.

 

It was around this time that Vals brought to my attention the weird old fucker standing 6 feet to our left glaring at the young dark haired girl next to him as if she was covered in milk chocolate and crack cocaine. During the mellow turn of “Suffering,” he drunkenly rocked back and forth occasionally grasping the air in what seemed like a lame attempt to steady himself, all the while not even bothering to face the stage, opting instead to leer at his now visibly uncomfortable victim. I tried my hardest to ignore this mongrel but something inside just wouldn’t allow it. I turned my head and looked right at the creepshow for what felt like a full minute but in all actuality was probably only 15 seconds or so before he noticed and, struggling to focus, looked back. I met his eyes, which looked like two burnt almonds glued to a catcher’s mitt, with a stone cold stare and we locked into an old fashioned eye contact contest until he experienced what looked like a terrible moment of clarity. He finally acknowledged his surroundings in total shock that this was all real life and raised his rusty gaze upward in horror to Granduciel, who I assume encompassed every slight and rejection this man had suffered in his already too long life. I was almost starting to feel sorry for this human cigarette when the band kicked into the opening riff of their life affirming first single “Red Eyes” and my attention returned to the stage. “Well played boys, well played,” I said to myself just before the first verse exploded into the chorus and the song lit up like a self-immolation. Suddenly nothing matters. Not the nervous future or the restless past. Not all the nagging regrets or the person you miss the most. None of it matters, it all just goes. Not even the old drunk with rapist eyes matters anymore because right now the music’s putting all the wreckage into perspective and for that moment you’re the center of the universe and there’s no such thing as…

 

Only when it’s quiet again and the lights come back do you notice all the empty beer cans and plastic cups that you’ve been comfortably standing on. You still smell the reefer smoke but now the encroaching stench of vomit takes over your olfactories like a smelling salt. You’ve been brought back now but hopefully you’ve held on to someone tight enough that they didn’t float away during the encore because as you step out into the night air, only to hear some vagabond hurling obscenities at passers-by for walking too close to her dog, you’ll want to go back, bad.  But I guess that’s what the album’s for. Right?

 

 

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