War on Drugs headlines Bill Graham Auditorium with rock songs that capture life’s fleeting memories

Adam Granduciel-led band keeps nostalgia and guitars at the forefront

For years, the War on Drugs have specialized in making albums that feel like the half-remembered moments of a reverie. From the blurry, eroding images on the cover of “Slave Ambient” to the billowing passages of hazy ambient rock of “A Deeper Understanding” to even naming a record “Lost in the Dream,” the recordings of Adam Granduciel and company grapple with the unreliable nature of memory and its associated feelings.

On their latest endeavor, “I Don’t Live Here Anymore,” those themes arise once again, with Granduciel exploring the significance of his recollections and how music can effortlessly transport him back to a time long past.

“I think it’s something about making music and getting kind of lost in your craft — I’m just naturally put into the place of memory,” said Granduciel, whose band will play at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium on Feb. 25. “It comes from this lifelong love and obsession I’ve had for music. It brings me back to this kind of creativity that comes from the past, from my childhood.”

Whether he is pondering that “maybe I’ve been gone too long/I can’t go back” on “Living Proof” or making the devastating revelation that he “can’t escape this memory” on “Harmonia’s Dream,” Granduciel returns times and again to the intoxicating — and equally dangerous — allure of the past on “I Don’t Live Here Anymore.” Nostalgia can fill you with an unmatched sense of euphoria, but stay there too long and you lose your grip on the present. When Granduciel looks back, it is neither with fondness nor horror, but with the ambiguity that makes up genuine human existence.

While Granduciel may be primarily concerned with examining the blurry moments of his personal history, he can be excused for taking a moment to celebrate the victories of his current life.

“I Don’t Live Here Anymore” continues an unprecedented run of success for the War on Drugs, a band that started in Philadelphia with a vaguely Springsteen-ian vibe and has since evolved into a West Coast group with a deeply ambitious and vast musical outlook. Perhaps no guitar-based indie rock band has successfully navigated the past decade as deftly as War on Drugs, who managed to stay deeply relevant while the cultural zeitgeist shifted to omnivorous pop, hip-hop and R&B icons like Frank Ocean, Grimes and Kendrick Lamar.

Of course, labelling the War on Drugs strictly as a guitar-based band misses the entire point, as the band has increasingly explored the murky realms of electronic-based sounds for years, no more so than on “I Don’t Live Here Anymore.”

Strangely labeled as “Americana” or “Heartland Rock,” the War on Drugs have never been fearful of venturing into the synth-laden lands explored by ‘80s rock groups. But the band has always been just weird enough to push away any comparisons to yacht-rockers like Genesis or Bruce Hornsby.

On “I Don’t Live Here Anymore,” the band pushes that strangeness (eerie synth flourishes, white noise, negative space) to exciting new avenues. On “Victim,” Granduciel crafts an icy synth ballad, full of jagged keyboard riffs and ambient dissonance. “I Don’t Want to Wait” starts off as a tense, nighttime anthem of odd mechanical beeps and wheezes before giving way to a triumphant, galloping second half spurred on by raining keys and distorted guitars.

The sonic lines are blurred throughout the album, with guitar riffs bleeding into an ocean of digital noise, creating a dizzying atmosphere that Granduciel describes as “one big sound.”

“We try to play around in the studio where you almost bend reality to turn it into something that is more of an illusion — this bed of noise, where you don’t know where the sounds are coming from,” said Granduciel.

Ultimately, creating illusions is what War on Drugs does best. Memories, dreams, faded recollections — those are all malleable and pliable concepts. It is impossible to capture and record the past accurately, but that’s not the point. Just trying to recall it makes the journey compelling, and the War on Drugs are always on the search.


The War on Drugs

Where: Bill Graham Civic Auditorium, 99 Grove St., S.F.

When: 8 p.m., Friday, Feb. 25

Tickets: $46

Contact: https://billgrahamcivic.com/

If You’re in the Stands, Keep Your Eye on the Ball

California Supreme Court has ruled fans assume the risk of being struck by balls, bats

Caltrain seeks $260 million to complete electrification

State budget surplus eyed to finish transformative rail project

Future of the Castro Theatre? Depends where you sit

Historical preservation and cinephile experience up against live-event upgrades