Alexandra Palace was built in 1873 and is steeped in history. The huge arched building on top of a hill in North London looms over the neighborhood. Ally Pally was the place where the world’s first TV was transmitted, and it has been home to some epic gigs over recent years.

With a capacity of nearly 11,000, the main hall is about the size of Wembley Arena. The venue also has decent acoustics unlike that concrete shed. It felt like most of The War on Drugs 270,000 Facebook friends were in there. This was a proper concert – not a pub gig in a back room. There were fans as far as the eye could see. I felt very grown up.

The Barr Brothers

Once I had negotiated my promised photo pass from the helpful Sarah on the door, I was all set to shoot Montreal’s Barr Brothers.

The Barr Brothers are Brad and Andrew (Barr). Brad plays guitar and sings, and Andrew drums. They were joined by bass, pedal steel slide guitar (the sit down version), and harpist Sarah Page. It was the first time that I had seen a full size harp at a gig, and it certainly was a great focal point.

The band kicked off with “You Would Have to Lose Your Mind”, which I had been playing on a loop since getting news of this gig. With Brad’s voice mirroring the guitar part, the track is beautifully constructed and paints a picture of vast emptiness – very much like the hall they were playing in.

The Barr Brothers occupy a desolate windswept snowy land that is dreamy and wistful. Their music is probably best described as a thinking person’s modern-day folk with a bit of rock, blues, jazz, and roots thrown in. Oh, that’s called Americana isn’t it?

True The Barr Brothers are never going to fill a dance floor. If you are looking for something to play late night when winding down after a hard night down the disco, they’re your band.

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The War on Drugs

First, I should say that I still had Lone Taxidermist‘s hyper-reality madness in my head from a couple of days before. As such, anything else was going to feel a bit tame.

Philadelphia’s The War on Drugs are tame. Before you jump to complain, tame can be a compliment. They don’t exactly put on a show, but prefer to let their music do the talking. Front-man Adam Granduciel strums his guitar and sings into the microphone, rarely looking beyond the edge of the stage. The band lined up around him in front of what looked like a massive zip fastener. They kicked off the set with “In Chains”, taken from their fourth album A Deeper Understanding. Here’s a full review of that album.

I’m not a great lover of AOR nor of its affiliated genres. The War on Drugs are touching the edges of that categorization, but I suppose I would stick them into the Americana section, or possibly psychedelic or shoegaze at a push. Fans of the band may say they are more than that, but they probably own albums by The Eagles, Springsteen, and Dylan. I kept thinking of some of the later stuff from The Waterboys, who, of course, are not American nor shoegazers but may well share the same folksy/rootsy lineage.

The performance could have worked equally well in a North London pub’s back room. Despite the huge stage and impressive lighting rig, the band created an intimacy for the audience. It was understated, undersold and a little underwhelming given the vast space they were aiming to fill. It was back room performance on an epic scale.

The War on Drugs delivered a set of carefully constructed songs to a lot of very satisfied fans. Great swathes of mobiles were held high to record favorite tracks. A happy audience is a healthy audience and The War on Drugs will no doubt continue to build a huge following for their very grown-up music.

Set List:

  • In Chains
  • Baby Missiles
  • Pain
  • Holding On
  • Ocean
  • Strangest Thing
  • Nothing to Find
  • Buenos Aires
  • Come to the City
  • Red Eyes
  • Thinking of a Place
  • Pressure
  • In Reverse
  • Eyes to the Wind
  • Burning

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Marcus Jamieson-Pond is a regular gig reviewer for The Revue. His other write ups can be found here. To see full sets of photos from this gig and more than 250 other bands shot in 2017, visit

Thanks to Ellie at Stay Loose PR for organising for TheRevue to cover this concert.

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