For the culmination of summer weekends, Alvvays and The War on Drugs played the fifth of six shows for KCRW’s World Festival at the Hollywood Bowl. The War on Drugs are on tour in support of their recent Grammy-winning album, A Deeper Understanding. Both bands have been making festival appearances over the summer, but tonight was the final chapter for this tour’s time in North America.
Alvvays opened to a crowd finishing their dinners and filling their seats, dusk only just beginning to set in. “1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8,” drummer Sheridan Riley signaled, playing into “Hey” and then “Adult Diversion.” Before “In Undertow,” which garnered a light hum of woos somewhere in the distance, frontwoman Molly Rankin made an introduction. “Hey Hollywood Bowl. This is very nice. We’re called Alvvays. We’re from Canada.” She made a brief pause. “I heard some boos. Just kidding,” she said, and then made a joke that the people eating dinner might be eating clams from her native Nova Scotia. Like most Alvvays’ songs, Rankin spoke with a subtle pep: dry, sweet, mellow. After shouting out to the people in the nosebleeds, she mentioned being excited to tour with The War on Drugs and congratulated them.
Rankin withheld from much banter, allowing the indie pop outfit to whiz through 12 songs, relative to their two released albums. Though Alvvays aren’t quite the band that exudes the power necessary to stretch across an amphitheater, they were indeed apt in warming up a crowd. They eased their way through with a set of bubbly guitar tracks, such as the dreamy “Archie, Marry Me.” To close, Rankin made a final remark: “Alright, this is a pleasure. This is our last song. Thank you very much.” Alvvays finished with “Next of Kin,” a sad narrative with a kicky beat.
The half moon was in full swing when The War on Drugs took the stage. Frontman Adam Granduciel welcomed the crowd: “Alright. Pleasure to be here, everybody.” They began with two songs from 2011’s Slave Ambient, “Brothers” and “Baby Missiles.” The first A Deeper Understanding song, “Pain,” followed. Upon “Strangest Thing,” Granduciel dedicated the song to their oldest crew member, Laurence, explaining “they wouldn’t let him back in the country this time.”
The six-piece easily filled the stage. A light fixture appropriately enclosed the band– a glowing semi-circle that looked like two attached wrought iron fences. Sometimes the the pointed tips would twinkle, other times the full unit would light up. Still, The War on Drugs, except for particular solo bits, could mostly only be seen by subtle colorful hues. Like Alvvays, most of The War on Drugs’ songs, whatever the topic, at least felt good to listen to by the way they sounded. And like Rankin, Granduciel was polite, shouting a quick “Thank you!” at the end of most songs.
The crowd was especially enthused with 2014’s “Red Eyes.” With the first note, woos rang about and the stage glowed red. By the chorus, people were up in dancing, which could especially be seen when bright white lights shone away from the stage; it was a sea of grooving bodies. Such excitement was paralleled during “Under the Pressure,” also from Lost in the Dream. The band began by tinkering around, but the moment a familiar chord struck, cheers too resounded. The light fixture twinkled with the beat. When the end of the song swelled, drummer Charlie Hall had a moment for focus. A piercing white spotlight shone over him, showing off his percussionist bravado, earning yells of encouragement.
For the encore, The War on Drugs opted out of their own discography. “We’re gonna do a song by Warren Zevon,” Granduciel explained. After “Accidentally Like a Martyr,” they finished with “Burning,” another Lost in the Dream track. Granduciel kicked off their closing by saying, “This is my dad’s favorite song!” Like many songs that night, “Burning” slowly and quietly built. It kicked in with cheery guitars and an 80s-esque drum loop. The stage radiated a warm red to yellow blend. “So if you look, you’ll find yourself. You’re not a demon in the dark,” Granduciel sang. It felt like an inspiring farewell hug.
“Lollipop (Ode to Jim)”
“Not My Baby”
“Saved by a Waif”
“Forget About Life”
“Archie, Marry Me”
“Next of Kin”
The War on Drugs Setlist
“An Ocean in Between the Waves”
“Arms Like Boulders”
“Nothing to Find”
“Eyes to the Wind”
“Under the Pressure”
“Thinking of a Place”
“Lost in the Dream”
“Accidentally Like a Martyr” (Warren Zevon cover)
File Photo: Sharon Alagna