Live Review: The War on Drugs at their very best at the Sydney Opera House Forecourt

With possibly the best band name of the last 20 years, The War on Drugs have always managed to put on a killer show everywhere and every time they’ve played. Their show at the Sydney Opera House Forecourt was no exception. Returning to Australia in support of their I Don’t Live Here Anymore, the Philadelphia lords put their best foot forward, nailed all guitar licks and managed to make a Monday evening a lot less mundane than you’d typically expect.

Acting as main support for the night were Spoon, a band described by The War on Drugs’ frontman Adam Granduciel as ‘the best band of the last 40 years’. While honestly not a band I’ve listened all that much to beyond their appearance on the soundtrack to season one of everyone’s favourite early 2000’s teen drama The O.C, Spoon brought a level of cool dad-rock to the stage that has since made me wish I knew them a little more than I did before the show. With a 45-minute set including “The Way We Get By”, “The Underdog”, and “Inside Out”, there was definitely enough in this set that gave those who turned up early more than enough reason to be happy with their decision to leave work early for the day.

Spoon @ Sydney Opera House 4th December 2023

Back in the country for the first time since 2017, The War on Drugs started right on 8:30pm, which is an anomaly for any headlining gig, but one that was definitely welcomed by the crowd looking for a fun night on a work night early in the week. Opening the set with the sprawling and equally luscious “An Ocean in Between the Waves”, I was thrown back to the first time I listened to the band. Picture this: it was 1 January 2014, I was at the inaugural leg of Falls Festival Byron Bay and trying my best not to combust in the scorching summer sun. It’s mid-to-late afternoon and out walks The War on Drugs. They mutter something to the effect of “it’s too damn hot” and immediately bust into a sweltering and flawless festival set. It was around the time “Red Eyes” was about to become everyone’s favourite driving song (ten years later it still is and was probably the most well-received song in this set) and well and truly thrust the band into their next level of stardom. Ten years later, this star still shines bright and their fans absolutely love them for it.

Playing for just on 90 minutes, the set leant more into their more recent releases (Lost In The Dream, I Don’t Live Here Anymore, and A Deeper Understanding all getting near enough to equal representation on the night), which kept the older and newest of fans happy. As the day turned into night, the light show came into its own, adding another layer to the music that was already well-versed in silky guitar, woozy synths, delicate harmonies, stellar drums and a saxophonist that refused to quit.

The set was well weighted, with fan favourites “Pain”, “Under the Pressure” and “Harmonia’s Dream” all getting a run, while the definite highlight for the night came in the form of “Red Eyes” (honestly I froth every time it comes on any of my playlists – the live version was bloody incredible). Taking in the lights and sights of the harbour, the band were grateful for being afforded the opportunity to play such a historic setting. You sensed they were genuinely thankful; there was a purity to their performance that couldn’t be faked.

Closing the night on “I Don’t Live Here Anymore” and “Occasional Rain”, Granduciel thanked the crowd and welcomed everyone back for their show on Tuesday night. And honestly, I wouldn’t have blamed anyone for wanting to repeat the night. A return to the country and a return to form, The War on Drugs may have missed a couple of their classics in the setlist, but in the end it really didn’t matter. What they put together for this Sydney show was a clear reminder of why they’ve been at the top of their game for such a long time.


You can see more photos from the night HERE

To buy tickets to the remainder of The War on Drugs’ Australian tour, head here.
This reviewer attended the show on Monday 4 December 2023.

Photos: Pete Dovgan