A passionate, spellbinding set at the final leg of the duo’s North American tour
If you can believe it, five long years have passed since the last time that Japandroids came to San Francisco and took over The Fillmore, and it’s been far too long of a wait. Their 2012 work Celebration Rock marked a pivotal shift from their laden-with-chaos-and-noise debut tunes to the triumphant, thundering anthems that their singles are now gleaming with, and 2017’s Near To The Wild Heart Of Life continues in this fashion, offering up a slab of pieces full of vitality and potency — this time with the extra sheen of studio magic. Lest you be concerned that the slick sounds of overdubs have marred the energy level that the Vancouver duo are famous for possessing, worry not: if anything, their chemistry has reached an all-time high, their precise delivery pairing magnificently with the massive walls of sound they can tirelessly deliver. If Japandroids were tired at the end of the tour, there was no sign of such weariness at this performance.
It’s hard to just hurtle straight into the unbridled explosion that is a Japandroids set, so the night kicked off with a set from Craig Finn, of The Hold Steady, and his new backing group The Uptown Controllers. Jangly alternative rock was the recipe for the first 45 minutes of the show, with Finn himself delivering an energetic, bouncy performance, his wild moves and mannerisms sudden and unexpected in the hail of chill but moveworthy tunes. Not being a heavy Hold Steady fan, a decent amount of the performance was lost on me, but it was definitely a pleasant, warm welcome to a night that would be otherwise filled with colossal blasts of sonic intensity.
To say that Japandroids were absolutely ready to tear into their set is an understatement; amid the pulsing strobes that heralded their appearance, singer/guitarist Brian King was leaping up and down constantly, with drummer David Browse thundering along at his kit, looking for all the world like he was ready to explode and take out his drums in the same movement. They held their wild chaos together, however, just long enough to barrel into the title track off of Near To The Wild Heart Of Life, and the sound was superb. The pair were clearly excited to share their new tunes with the audience, and the pieces threaded marvelously with ones from their previous albums, which were jam-packed into the 18-song set.
Apart from the fantastic quality of extra sound poured into their older tunes — it was really fantastic to hear bits like “Wet Hair”, “Young Hearts Spark Fire” and “Sovereignty” with the amped-up layers of King’s current rig — the most wonderful aspect of the show was how intimate it felt, even within the carefully-concentrated blasts of mayhem that filled the majority of the group’s set. With each moment of tuning up between songs, or introing the next number to come up, King and Prowse talked a bit about their love of San Francisco — how they’d gone from tiny places like The Hemlock Tavern and The Independent to headlining two Fillmore shows this year — or made jokes, or chatted about the bands on their shirts or instruments. The whole experience felt amazingly close, despite the band being on an elevated stage and bathed in dozens of lights; the wall between audience and artist was gone, and these were two folks just super pleased to share their new work with a bunch of local friends.
With the evolution of their melodies, production, and the direction of their songwriting, Japandroids have taken their sounds of thunder and joy and packaged them into a dynamite set that is thrilling to behold — yet their egos have remained in check, their humble sense of excitement laid bare onstage, and all the more palpable and infectious as a result. Aside from a few sudden mosh pits that burst forth from hearing older tracks brought to life, the audience stayed mostly still with gentle but bright energy, and fists and clapping hands were raised in unison to match the drums and shouts alike. With no encore to their set — just a wildly fun performance of “If You Want Blood (You Got It) with Craig Finn taking up lead vocals — the night wrapped up with a great sense of finality, and Prowse and King came out themselves to take apart their stage set as the house lights came up.
Years may pass before we see Japandroids again — so make sure you don’t miss them the next time that happens.
Additional photos from the show below. All photos © 2017 Jonathan Pirro.
Craig Finn and the Uptown Controllers: