Concert Review: The War on Drugs Live at Madison Square Garden

Advertisement at Madison Square Garden, NYC

The War on Drugs (TWOD) are currently on tour promoting their fifth album, I Don't Live Here Anymore. The band's previous album, 2017's A Deeper Understanding won the 2018 Grammy for Best Rock Album.

With fewer rock albums making a dent on the charts these days, TWOD are kind of an outlier. Along with Tame Impala, they're blazing the new psych-rock trail, complete with with empassioned songwritng, ringing guitars and light shows.

I caught TWOD at Madison Square Garden on Jan. 29. The show was advertised as "an evening of LIVE DRUGS, 2 Hour Set." They exceeded that by 10 minutes, starting promptly at 8:30 pm. The 18-song set (including a three-song encore) opened with "Old Skin" from the new album. They played six other songs from the album, closing with "Occasional Rain."

Led by singer/songwriter guitarist Adam Granduciel, The War on Drugs appeal to fans of Tom Petty, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen and U2. Their songs are athemic, but aren't overblown like typical classic-rock epics. Most TWOD tunes end with repeat choruses, harmonies and guitar solos. Granduciel is augmented by fellow guitarist Robbie Bennett in a seven-piece unit that includes saxophonist Jon Natchez and their first female member, keyboard player Eliza Hardy Jones. Charlie Hall holds it all together on drums.

Surveying the crowd at one point, Granduciel commented, "We usually play for 800 people." The half-full arena had nearly 10,000 fans in attendance, a Garden official told CelebStoner. Check out the setlist here.


How The War on Drugs Picked Their Name

It's unclear why The War on Drugs took that band name. They don't sing about drugs (except perhaps for "Red Eyes") and never make statements about the nation's lenghty drug war. In a cover story in the Jan.-Feb. 2022 issue of Relix, MIke Greenhaus writes:

"The War on Drugs has been thorough several different incarnations since Granduciel started recording under the handle in 2005. He says that a friend came up with the band's moniker a couple of years before the project truly came to life." 

Adam Granduciel: "It was either The War on Drugs or The Rigatoni Danzas.  I think we made the right choice."

Here's Granduciel's explanation at Song Facts:

"My friend Julian and I came up with it a few years ago over a couple bottles of red wine and a few typewriters when we were living in Oakland. We were writing a lot back then, working on a dictionary and it just came out and we were like, 'Hey, good band name?' So, eventually when I moved to Philadelphia and got a band together I used it. It was either that or The Rigatoni Danzas. I think we made the right choice. I always felt though that it was the kind of name I could record all sorts of different music under without any sort of predictability inherent in the name." 

It's an ironic name. Surely, Granduciel and his bandmates oppose the longrunning War on Drugs.


The War on Drugs on Tour

1/31-1/2 - House of Blues, Boston, MA

2/2 - The Anthem, Washington, DC

2/4 - KEMBA Live!, Columbus, OH

2/5 - Stage AE, Pittsburgh, PA

2/6 - Promo West Pavilion at Ovation, Newport, KY

2/8 - The Fillmore Detroit, Detroit, MI

2/10-11 - The Chicago Theatre, Chicago, IL

2/12-13 - Riverside Theatre, Milwaukee, WI

2/15-16 - Place Theatre, St. Paul, MN

2/18 - Mission Ballroom, Denver, CO

2/19 - The Union Event Center, Salt Lake City, UT

2/21-22 - Paramount Theatre, Seattle, WA

2/23 - Theater of the Clouds, Portland, OR

2/25 - Bill Graham Auditorium, San Francisco, CA

2/26 - Shrine Auditorium & Expo Hall, Los Angeles, CA

2/27 - Innings Festival 2022, Tempe, AZ


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Steve Bloom

Steve Bloom

Publisher of, former editor of High Times and Freedom Leaf and co-author of Pot Culture and Reefer Movie Madness.