Together with Kurt Vile and tourmates, Purling Hiss, there’s a budding new blues movement around Adam Granduciel and his band, The War on Drugs. All three acts can trace their roots back to Philadelphia where Vile was once a member of The War on Drugs and Purling Hiss’ Mike Polizze has served as a touring guitarist for Vile. The shared history also includes shared sounds.
Listening to Granduciel and The War on Drugs in a nearly-packed Tavern on Saturday night, it would have been easy to make the connection without Wikipedia. For like Vile, his guitar playing is heavy on brightly picked tones, occasionally augmented with a traditional riff. Vocally, while his slacked ramble often gets comparisons to Dylan, one can make the same connection to his one time bandmate, too. Where Granduciel diverges however, is in his delivery. Here, he was mostly faithful to his latest record, the very well received, Slave Ambient, whereas Vile took two extra guitarists with him when he toured on a similarly subdued album.
This night the songs were light, and graceful, with warm re-verb cloaking a rhythm section often content with dutiful repetition. The net effect was an extended, blurry haze, one that had the less patient hankering for something more, something different, any variation on the theme, yet left the balance of the crowd pleased.
If The War on Drugs represented one side of the Philadelphia blues spectrum — Quiet, peaceful and studious — Then Polizze and Purling Hiss operated on the opposite end, the shredding end.
A power trio in the truest sense, there wasn’t one style in the hard rock canon this trio didn’t hammer. At times they recalled grunge. Other times it was sludge. They threw down metal, proto-punk, lots of wah-wah riffs and some garage-rock, too. Polizze laid down nasty bit after nasty bit during their intense and surprisingly melodic set. Yes, in between all of that wreckage there was a pop song or two. Granted, the vocals weren’t pop vocals. Polizze sings as he shreds, with a rough directness.
Together, The War on Drugs and Purling Hiss, provided not only a strong argument in favor of the Philadelphia underground scene, but also a case for further mingling of that family tree. Granduciel could certainly use someone like Polizze on stage to break through that steady haze. Conversely, Polizze could benefit from Granduciel’s attention to detail. Those lo-fi records just don’t do justice to the shredfest that is Purling Hiss.