JAPANDROIDS + CRAIG FINN @ THE FONDA THEATRE
The Japandroids let loose a meaty set of their earnest and boozy brand of mall rock in support of their new LP Near to the Wild Heart of Life. This is straight up mall rock if the Boss owned the mall, and they enthusiastically served you keg beer in the food court.
Backed by white hot strobe lights the Vancouver duo’s assault left the all too tame Thursday crowd wishing it were a day later. Nevertheless, when the strobes fired, they created flip book snap shots of rock n roll moments – Brian King captured in a mid-air jump, or David Prowse with arms raised, ready to murder his drum kit.
King’s presence morphed effortlessly between stoic front man in a boxer’s pose, to an unhinged post-punk garage poet. His dispatches do not attempt Dylan, but end up more as an older brother’s sage advice to a younger sibling: party like it’s the last time you ever will.
With opener “Near to the Wild Heart of Life,” King set a tone that never let up with his wish, “May your heart always be ardent.” By the second song, he was leaning in to chord strikes in a way that suggested he was about to fall face first in to a swimming pool.
Any moment not usurped by King was filled by Prowse’s pounding drum fills that served to complete the fortification of Japandroids iron-clad sound. Make no mistake, Japandroids remain largely a one trick pony. But their trick is one worth repeating, and that they did.
King ripped breakneck upstrokes on his guitar during the intro of of the stellar “North East South West,” but shifted energies during new track “True Love and a Free Life of Free Will,” to spit prose: “Cigarettes, sorcery, and Biblical sins, Hangovers, heathens, harlots, and anti-heroines.”
A mid-set highlight came with the bug zapper intro to “Arc of Bar,” and the music’s interplay with dramatic stage lighting. The seven-minute epic takes up an eternity in Japandroids time. Most of their songs pack a quick punch or two then surrender to the next song.
On a tune like “The Nights of Wine and Roses,” Prose’s sporadic vocal shortcomings ultimately end up an asset. His cries make more sense when they slide slightly off-key; desperation isn’t meant to roll off the tongue.
In “Midnight to Morning,” King yearned for his queen, ready to shed the bottle upon homecoming. While the “bring me back home to you” refrain ran the risk of stinking of cliché, it was the Revolutionary War march of the snare drum that saved the jam. Near to the Wild Heart of Life track “No Known Drink Or Drug” also reaped the benefits of Prowse’s busy work; cascading drums cascaded over cascading drums.
Opener Craig Finn re-emerged to close out the show on a raucous cover of AC/DC’s “If You Want Blood (You’ve Got It).” The spirit in Finn’s other project, The Hold Steady, is cut from a similar cloth as that of the headliner, so his vocals fit right in to seal the show with a celebratory bang.
Japandroids live on in 2017 with their heart affixed to a sleeve of a beer stained shirt. At the Fonda, their performance was one long smoke ‘em if ya got ‘em fist pump. The set wasn’t meant to save your life. It was designed to save your night.
Near to the Wild Heart of Life
North East South West
True Love and a Free Life of Free Will
In a Body Like a Grave
Arc of Bar
The Nights of Wine and Roses
I Quit Girls
Midnight to Morning
No Known Drink Or Drug
Young Hearts Spark Fire
The House That Heaven Built
If You Want Blood (You’ve Got It) (AC/DC cover with Craig Finn)