Published Jul 07, 2018In 2014, while sharing a timeslot at the Ottawa Folk Festival with the War on Drugs, Mark Kozelek unceremoniously referred to the band's sound as "beer-commercial lead guitar" rock (among other comments). As the War on Drugs' triumphant return to the nation's capital proved, Kozelek might just have been on to something, as the Philadelphia band positively attracted hordes of beer-commercial rockers — alongside 20-something indie fans, general college kids, aging Jethro Tull anticipators and members of Hanson (who watched from the rafters) — to the Ottawa's Bluesfest main stage.
But part of the mass appeal the War on Drugs deliver falls within they way they can create broadly structured rock that also comes off amazingly intricate and thoughtful. Entering a stage setup littered with instruments, lighting and sound equipment, the sextet opened their Friday evening performance with an impossibly tight rendition of "Eyes to the Wind" from their 2014 LP Lost in the Dream, before moving on to their 2018 single that drew ecstatic cheers from the growing crowd.
After playing a pair of tracks from the aforementioned album, the band moved into a surprise rendition of "Arms Like Boulders," from their 2008 debut LP, Wagonwheel Blues, that found singer/guitarist Adam Granduciel breaking from his solemn gaze to flail around the roomy stage while delivering one of his many face-melting guitar solos.
Throughout their nine-track, hour-long set that mostly included material from their previous two releases, including a somehow-epic rendition of the ballad "Burning," the War on Drugs seemed incredibly comfortable and at home on the festival's main stage. Granduciel, taking his band's time allotment very seriously, informed the audience that they would not have time to play their nine-minute closer, "Under the Pressure," before opting to treat the audience to a stunning, and intense performance of the title track from their 2014 LP that seemed to win over every member of the large and eclectic Bluesfest crowd — beer-commercial lead guitar rockers and all.