Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Show Review: The War on Drugs w/ Peter Matthew Bauer

The War on Drugs performed at Haw River Ballroom on
Friday, October 17
The night started out slow. Familiar for Haw River Ballroom. Long walk from the car to the door, grab a beer past the entrance, decent crowd, not too many yet we’re too far from all the major cities. Here we are, trapped in the amber of the moment. There is no why. Peter Matthew Bauer started the occasion. I expected a lot of Bauer—something gentle and soothing as compared to his prior sounds with The Walkmen. I had heard he’d been studying astrology, offering readings on his website for 150 a pop, the older rock star finding peace and I was excited to see how his live set would reverberate his experience.

Bauer had a 50’s vibe, surf rock mixed with indie pop and just the slightest dash of psych rock. For me it all clicked with his track “I was born in an Ashram.” Bauer has never been a vocalist; in this track I started to see whats been on his mind all those bass-thumping years. As he chanted with band in tow “let’s leave it behind, the future is ours, let’s leave it behind, all that we say, let’s leave it behind, nothing’s illusion.” I heard the triumphant dirge of a rock star bent on striking his own chord, forming a band whose frontman would sing the songs he had been holding inside. Bauer didn’t disappoint. By the time his set was winding up, the room was full of people eager to defy Kozelek and get to a The War on Drugs show. Bauer had set the room up right. Beers flowed, old friends embraced, the haw river’s characteristic “thrills” signed pointed to a stage that promised we’d see something between psych rock and indie pop hit the stage in 1!5, maybe 20 minutes.

What to say about seeing The War on Drugs. As a wise man once said, “If you can do a half- assed job of anything, you're a one-eyed man in a kingdom of the blind.” The War on Drugs offered up tunes, but it wasn’t my favorite show (or second favorite show) that I’d seen that week. There was no consensus among the crowd. Seemingly half-hearted woo’s sounded periodically, signifying that one song had ended and another would no doubt soon begin. Some of the people around me would leave, allowing others to shuffle forward. I myself left before the encore, by the time they played "Red Eye," third or fourth song, a characteristic hit, I felt like I had gotten a sense of the whole show I would see from then on.

I may be drunk on our local music scene, starving for each show to radiate an intensity of wonder, musicians amazed at the supportive scene they play to here in Central NC. For this reviewer, The War on Drugs lacked this intensity. Not to say they were bad, they certainly weren’t. The instruments played were played well, the band’s sound was cohesive. It was that I had come expectant of a psych rock show—a genre quite open for interpretation and my personal favorite. I had heard The War on Drugs associated with the sounds of bands like Woods, Spiritualized, The Beta Band, etc. By the time they hit "Red Eye," I was losing interest in the live show which offered very rehearsed performances of studio tracks. The drum beats were kept simple, the instrumental breaks and guitar solos were played exactly similar to studio recordings. If that’s your type of thing, I would highly recommend a The War on Drugs show. If it’s not, the show may still be worth checking out, you’ll hear familiar songs and be able to put faces and movements to a sound, but it won’t be the best show you see that week.

-Joe Wright

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