The Start of Something Epic: The War on Drugs, at Red Palace


Adam Granduciel is averse to cheesy stuff, such as this soft-focus photo.

The War on Drugs’ Adam Granduciel doesn’t write choruses; he writes anthems. Just listen to his band’s second album, “Slave Ambient,” released last month. There’s not a chorus within earshot.

“For some reason, I feel cheesy when I write a chorus,” the 32-year-old singer and guitarist says. “If you’re going to [use a chorus], it’s got to be awesome, and I haven’t gotten to that point yet.”

Still, his songs — simple folk tunes layered in a dense fog of ambient noise — feel like the kind of epic, grandiose fare you’d sing along to in a stadium with a lighter in the air, choruses or not.

Of course, the Philadelphia-based group isn’t ready for stadiums just yet — on Friday the band headlines the tiny Red Palace on H Street — but “Slave Ambient” is earning Granduciel comparisons to arena rock icons such as Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen and Tom Petty.

“It would be silly if I were to say, ‘Oh, I don’t really like those guys,'” Granduciel says. “If you’re making guitar-based music now, you’re somehow indebted to those guys. I grew up on [them].”

Granduciel spent the past few years recording “Slave Ambient” between tours. Most of the groundwork was laid at his home studio in Philadelphia, where he lives with his girlfriend, a pit bull and five cats. There, Granduciel and sometimes-band members Dave Hartley, Robbie Bennett and Mike Zanghi jammed for hours. Granduciel listened to the results and layered loops of ambient sound on top of the more formed songs that would make up the album.

“I was spending a lot of time working on something, and I wasn’t even sure what I was working on,” he says.

Looks like he has a pretty good idea now.

Musical Peers, Still in Sync
If the War on Drugs’ “Slave Ambient” and Kurt Vile’s “Smoke Ring for My Halo” often feel of the same mind, it’s because they are: Adam Granduciel and Vile play on both albums. The Philadelphia-based folkies have played together since 2003 and have been members of each other’s bands. Vile stopped touring with the War on Drugs in 2008, but Granduciel is still a member of Vile’s band, the Violators. “I wasn’t going to not do his thing just because he’s not doing mine anymore,” Granduciel says. “I like to think my stuff on “Smoke Ring” was irreplaceable just like his stuff on my [album] gives it identity.”

Red Palace, 1210 H St. NE; with Caveman, Paperhaus; Fri., 9:30 p.m., $10; 202-399-3201, Redpalacedc.com.

Rudi Greenberg is Express' Weekend Pass editor and comedy columnist.
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Kristina Gray · August 31, 2011