As it happens, the greatest band of rock stars ever was one show-stopping example. Over Thanksgiving weekend last year, people were enraptured by Get Back: The Beatles, the three-part documentary series that premiered on Disney + .
Adam Granduciel, the creative force, lead singer and songwriter behind the War on Drugs, one of the greatest guitar rock acts of the past decade, was one such unapologetic fan. Just like us, he couldn’t get enough of the behind-the-scenes, eight-plus-hour look into a pivotal period when John, Paul, George and Ringo prepared for their last ever live performance together as the Beatles.
“I’ve been obsessed,” Granduciel says over the phone from his home in Los Angeles. “I could go on and on about 20 different things from it. I’ve watched it twice all the way through.”
Of course, Granduciel, the owner of a Grammy award for Best Rock album in 2018 (For A Deeper Understanding), as well as a pair of gold records (Lost in the Dream and A Deeper Understanding), isn’t just any ol’ music nerd. Although his public persona hasn’t ever seemed to be that of a fame-seeking, Sunset Strip hotel wrecker, it’s undeniable that he would watch something like Get Back from a different perspective than most folks.
In the climactic final hour of the doc series, the Beatles put aside the slight bickering, cutting-up indecision and goofy distractions to climb to the roof of the Apple Corp.'s headquarters, plug in and rock out with a handful of new songs they'd been perfecting for weeks.
Its likely most of us average fans found ourselves wondering what it would’ve been like to be one of the London residents and workers standing on Seville Row, looking up and hoping for a glimpse of the band while “Don’t Let Me Down” and “Dig a Pony” blasted from the rooftop. Understandably, Granduciel put himself in the shoes of the band.
“George [Harrison] didn’t even want to be up there,” he says. “But then the police show up on the roof, he’s the one that plugs his amp back in to keep playing. So much of that reaction was from how the Beatles had cut their teeth while playing live for hours a night, weeks at a time, and that was taken from them because of celebrity and how they couldn’t hear anything when they played.
"On 'Dig a Pony' you don’t see anyone count off to begin. You could see them all go like, ‘Yeah, this is what it’s like to play live again. It was perfect.’”
The War on Drugs recently had a moment that provided Granduciel with a similar sort of epiphany. The band performed a livestream concert in December, when each member was in the same room for one of the first times in a very long time, thanks to the pandemic. Highlighting songs from the group’s excellent, latest record, I Don’t Live Here Anymore, you could see the often reserved Granduciel give himself emotionally to the music in a more noticeable manner than usual.
“There’s a missing element when you rehearse songs for months on end without an audience ... You know, you can get dressed up for a party, but if you don’t leave the house, there’s no party." –Adam Granduciel
During the performance of a new song, “Change,” Granduciel closed his eyes, tilted his head back and slowly swayed in a most groovy way as a melodic solo soared from his guitar. Simply put, he was feeling the moment.
“Getting to play with the band again like that was so satisfying,” he says. “None of the new album was really recorded with the band in the same room, you know, so it was great to finally feel like a real group again. When we’re playing and everything starts gelling and Robbie [Bennett] finds his niche on the piano and everything falls into place, it’s just really great.”
Another thing that hits Granduciel similarly to die-hard fans of rock ‘n’ roll is the oft-discussed topic of whether is dead. It’s hard to pinpoint the moment when such an asinine idea was introduced, but the simple fact that The War on Drugs keeps making critically acclaimed albums that are also popular with consumers is proof that any rumors of rock music’s demise are greatly exaggerated to say the least.
“There are so many great, guitar-oriented artists out there,” he says. “So many great women making amazing rock music these days, too. I don’t know where that thought comes from. You see that question a lot and I’m like, ‘Stop, use your brain for five seconds. It’s like a clickbait thing.”
Whether one looks to the enduring influence of the Beatles, or to the artists of today like War on Drugs who take rock into directions both new and familiar in their own way, rock is alive and well. For Granduciel, it’ll be more alive than ever when he’s back on stage with his band and in front of crowds full of fans. The way it’s supposed to be. That’s another feeling the rock star shares with all of us.
“There’s a missing element when you rehearse songs for months on end without an audience,” he says. “You know, you can get dressed up for a party, but if you don’t leave the house, there’s no party. For us, when we finally get to play in front of people, that’s going to be when the songs take on a new life, all their own.”
The War on Drugs perform on Friday, Jan. 21 at the Pavilion at Toyota Music Factory