There’s something to be said for having the right setting.
And while Canadian indie rock duo Japandroids probably would have availed themselves perfectly well outdoors at this year’s never-to-be Sound On Sound Festival, it’s hard to think of a better time and place for their undeniable anthems than the dark and cave-like Emo’s concert hall where sounds can reverberate and grow even bigger.
Since the band’s 2009 debut album, guitarist Brian King has brandished one of those rare, singular guitar tones that make a Japandroids song identifiable almost immediately. Kind of the same thing Bob Mould pulled off with Sugar and his later solo work; a handful of Britpop bands managed to create their own tone brand as well.
In a live setting we hear that the key to King’s tuneful fuzz is expert use of sustain effect, so his parts build into a gigantic wave that makes the songs like the newer “North East South West” or an earlier cut like “Young Hearts Spark Fire” take over a room cut in half with an acoustic curtain and filled with 800 fans. A descriptor like “anthemic” applies to nearly the whole body of Japandroids’ work, and would make for a fine title for a career-spanning anthology one day.
Another key: right from the drop King attacked his vocals on Saturday night, sweating by two minutes into show opener “Near To The Wild Heart Of Life” and only pulling back his intensity when newer, more deliberate songs like “I’m Sorry (For Not Finding You Sooner)” required restraint and control in his delivery.
Three albums into their two-man attack, King and drummer/vocalist David Prowse have started to change up their sonic ingredients, and Saturday showed that their fans are willing to take the journey with them. It takes guts for a band that built its name on in-the-red intensity to trot out a seven-minute synth-phony like “Arc Of Bar” – with a heavily effected guitar backing track running under everything – but the song holds up and expands the band’s sound because King and Prowse still deliver the buildup and payoff crowds have come to expect.
Of course the highest points came on the trio of undeniable anthems – “Fire’s Highway,” “Nights Of Wine And Roses” and “The House That Heaven Built” – from the band’s sophomore album that are some of the most reliable crowd-pleasers of at least the past decade.
The final song of that trio closed off the concert at just over 90 minutes, and came after Dylan Baldi from opening band Cloud Nothings grabbed a bass guitar and joined the pair for a cover of “Dead Moon Night” from beloved cult band Dead Moon, whose founding member Fred Cole died last week at age 69.
It was a suite that married the indie rock canon that Japandroids have built themselves from with the confidence of always moving forward, loudly, with continuous thunder.
Near To The Wild Heart Of Life
Arc Of Bar
North East South West
True Love And A Free Life Of Free Will
Midnight To Morning
I’m Sorry (For Not Finding You Sooner)
Nights Of Wine And Roses
No Known Drink Or Drug
Young Hearts Spark Fire
Dead Moon Night (Dead Moon cover)
The House That Heaven Built