The Sermon On the Mount

 

War on Drugs Red Rocks, Monday, September 19th, 2022

Red Rocks

Nate Hughes

This is hard country to stay alive in
Blades are everywhere and they’re breaking my skin
I’m armed to the hilt and I’m struggling hard
You won’t get out of here unscarred

Been dark all night, but now it’s dawn
The moving finger, is moving on
You can guard me, while I sleep
Piss away, the tears I weep
It’s a long road, it’s a long and narrow way
If I can’t work up to you, you’ll surely have to work down to me someday.”

– Bob Dylan, Narrow Way, from Tempest

Red Rocks Amphitheatre (also colloquially as simply Red Rocks) is an open-air amphitheater built into a rock structure in the western United States, near Morrison, Colorado, ten miles west of Denver. There is a large, tilted, disc-shaped rock behind the stage, a huge vertical rock angled outwards from stage right, several large outcrops angled outwards from stage left and a seating area for up to 9,525 attendees.  One must literally sojourn up a slender, rocky mountainous pathway to get to the actual amphitheater, a visceral pilgrimage to perhaps the most iconic, mythical, and coveted of all live music stages in the Unites States. On this evening, The War on Drugs brings their “I Don’t Live here Anymore” tour to Morrison, a haunting, incandescent, spiritual, zeitgeist of Dylan, Cohen, Paul Simon, 80’s Murmur REM, even reminiscent of some classic 70’s Tom Petty in the beginning of “Old Skin”, and Springsteen with ebullient, twisted, mellifluous, electronic intros and interludes, through the haunting temporal loops of Anthony LaMarca’s beautiful, ethereal, and seemingly flawless guitar, Robbie Bennett’s synth and piano (which would be masterpieces on their own volition), Adam’s natural singer and front man hopscotching  through pedals with pyrotechnic guitar solos (his voice, the perfect union of Paul Simon and Bob Dylan), the newest member, Liza Hardy Jones’ beautiful, joyous, soulful voice range (she is reminiscent of The Dead’s addition of Donna Jean Godchaux-MacKay), Dave Hartley’s clawing at his bass through air tight cohesion of sounds, Charlie Hall’s chipping away in pure joy at drums gripping at the drumsticks like Joe Cocker holding a microphone swaying his head left to right, relentlessly hammering his hi hat with the intensity of Pablo Escobar’s possessed mustache-laced doppelganger, rocking back and forth, every time he hits a beat, and the reverent Jon Natchez, the haunting, baritone sax monologue harrowing backdrop, often for the oscillating denouement to close chapters of an immortal novel:  The War on Drugs, much like Springsteen, Dylan, and Neil Young – perform lyrical narratives based around loss, reflection, benedictions of natural landscapes (thus Red Rocks is an ideal venue), darkness, pain, emotive longing, anomie, and reliving past transgressions.  Old Skin. Change. Occasional Rain. I Don’t Want to Wait. Victim. The songs flood into a post-COVID world metamorphosizing with unrelenting intellectual fury, Adam’s song writing holding the human soul hostage into his prescient palms:

All the flowers lately in our window lay in disarray
The shadows are scattered like rings of gold
And I’m watching the warm lights fade away
Go now, and love is leavin’
Like a fadin’ dream

Callin’ out in the darkest moments of our love
For the rest of my days, why let it linger?
Come along, we’re the same
Let’s suffer through the change

And Change:

I’ve been drivin’ on the west side again
And the rain keeps pourin’ down
Finally figured out my way
I’ve been living on the run, ’cause I can’t find
That thing that holds and binds us tight
I’m out here dying in the heat
Oh, what am I to find?
Yeah, when I open the door
To desperate men
Easily could run from the start
Sheltered and dead
I hear your call
Crawl inside and wait for the fall

To Occasional Rain:

Feel the storm coming on
Feel the darkness at your gate
Live the loneliness of life
Keep on moving at your pace
Ain’t the sky just shades of gray
Until you seen it from the other side?
Oh, if loving you’s the same
It’s only some occasional rain

Motifs of loss, regret, transformation, rebirth, solace, emotive longing, repatriation, ascent into spiritual resurgence, atonement, and redemption. The set list carefully arranged, mostly from “I Don’t Want to Live Here Anymore,” and from “A Deeper Understanding,” and “Lost in the Dream.”  A Deeper Understanding is their fourth August 25, 2017, through Atlantic Records and produced by the inscrutable, enigmatic, ineffable, LA-based Shawn Everett.  “I Don’t Live Here Anymore,” is WOD’s fifth studio album, released on October 29, 2021, also through Atlantic Records, and also produced by Shawn Everett.  The set list peppered with “Lost in The Dream,” released on March 18, 2014 through Secretly Canadian, with the tightest performance of “Under the Pressure,” a song about panic attacks, I have ever seen since I have seen them in Berkeley’s Greek Theatre, Oakland’s Fox Theater, multiple times at the Greek in LA, to multiple smaller venues in Philly for their fundraiser for local public Philly schools, Drugcember to remember in 2019, and the Ziggo Dome in Amsterdam, over the past 5 ½ years of seeing their live performances.  While performing “Under the Pressure,” rooftop blaring bass and schizophrenic sax interludes to a primordial, metamorphic trembling denouement which builds up to a cataclysmic, orgasmic, emotive outpouring of a Brechtian, unfiltered cathartic communion with the audience. Each band member doing their own thing, Liza banging the tambourine in rhythm, to Charlie massacring the drums, pulsating beat, to Adam’s rapturous, lyrical battle cry, they come together to create something in unison that is majestic, unforgiving, unforgettable in this place where the natural sound reflects off the rocks where the cavernous desert stars blink and smile.

What differentiates WOD from other indie bands is the unrelenting focus to open their minds to music in so many different forms, such as the homage to Krautrock, their devotion to the sound of 70s West Germany enshrined in the title of Harmonia’s Dream, my personal synth favorite. The band’s imagination reflected in the pure joy to perform is overpowering. Balkanized and atomized on their own, each would be a force of nature. But coming together with love – with love, affection, and awe of each other’s might, is what differentiates WOD from other indie and rock bands. The way Jon watches Adam with a “dude, you’re killing it!” glazed stare, to Adam giving Robbie a “you’re not worthy” bow (and vice versa back to Adam), is why WOD commands such musical intensity. Moreover, during the show the two techs, including Dominic West, were both rocking out with the band, also drawing mutual camaraderie and respect for the band members, even air guitaring it, which was cool to watch. Dude. You’re killing it!

And the inevitable tragedy of live music is that invariably must end somewhere. The pilgrimage – the biblical sojourn – up that slender, mountainous climb was worth it.

I’m in a rolling wave
That moves across the line
Am I losing my faith?
We’re gonna lose it in time
Sometimes forwards is the only way back
To reach the hill in time

I was lost in the light that can’t be seen
Don’t move around in front of me
I’m gonna see, I’m on a drive
You lay awake, you know the way
You know the path I’m walking on
Are we the cast you’re leaning on?
You know the coast, you’re on your own

Where I’m going like a light that can’t be seen
Don’t look away, it’s just a dream
I’m out of touch, so out of reach
It’s coming back and I’m moving fast
Just one more day and I’m home at last
I need that love I’m dreaming on
I know the cost

You’re on your own, oh
You’re on your own

The live music at red Rocks does end that majestic evening. But the frenetic tour seems not to. See you at Sound Summit on Saturday, October 22nd in Mount Tamalpais for yet another adventure.  Our Love is All We Have.  

Set List

Victim

Holding On

Ocean

I Don’t Wanna Wait

Pain

Strangest Thing

Red Eyes

Living Proof

Harmonia’s Dream

Nothing To Find

Buenos Aires Beach

Come to the City

Born in Time

Under the Pressure

I Don’t Live Here Anymore

Occasional Rain

{Encore}

Old Skin

Thinking of a Place

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