Japandroids at SXSW 2018: like riding a chrome-plated pterodactyl into hell

In the immortal words of Canadian rock two-piece Japandroids: “WHOA OH OH OH OH OH OH OH.”

Sorry, I have to collect myself, for I have become verklempt. And I ain’t being sarcastic.

Punk bros Brian King and David Prowse flew into their Wednesday night South By Southwest showcase at Lustre Pearl like bats out of hell, ready to spew adrenaline from their full-throated screams, guitar power that shredded the cartilage around your ear and drum thunder that could throw you down Rainey Street into an entirely different bar. And on those screams: King sounded a little more like he was gargling gravel then you might expect from the band’s records, but power comes at a great cost sometimes.

Two key facts to help curate your mental picture of this set:

  1. King took the stage looking like he was already drenched in sweat.
  2. A fight broke out at the front of the crowd on the second song.

Japandroids’ SXSW show (their first concert of the year, King said) was an experience worth checking your sense of self at the door and submitting to the band’s symphony of turbo-charged sloganeering. Do not mistake lines like “Remember when we had them all on the run/And the night we saw midnight sun” for cheese. Such lyrics are brimstone plucked straight from Satan’s hearth; they are features, not bugs, of the most cathartic part of your night.

Let’s illustrate:

  • Seeing Japandroids live is like entering a wrestling ring in full spandex, and then “Macho Man” Randy Savage bodyslams you and yells “NOW YOU GOT ME ALL FIRED UP” in your ear.
  • Seeing Japandroids live is like watching a new industrial revolution be born in front of your eyes, with two well-oiled machines working overtime to chant “My love’s bigger than your love” enough that the song replaces coal as a power source.
  • Seeing Japandroids live is like riding a chrome-plated pterodactyl into hell and plowing down a skeleton army, but every skeleton is wearing a sign around its neck labeled with one of your deepest insecurities, and the pterodactyl’s sound system (go with it) blasts the words “hearts from hell collide on fire’s highway tonight” while obliterate those bone monsters with a bullwhip.
  • Seeing Japandroids live reminds you to put “North East South West” and “Younger Us” on the playlist for your summer roadtrip to Asgard. Don’t forget to pack salty snacks!
  • Seeing Japandroids live is like going to the nightly cabaret show on a cruise ship made of wrought iron and powered by gasoline, and Gilgamesh is the cruise director and he’s leading a singalong, and you wait to go get more cocktail shrimp at the buffet until the song gets to the part of the song that goes “We yell like hell to the heavens.” It’s kind of like your version of “Sweet Caroline.”

When I say that seeing Japandroids create their melodic punk alchemy on stage is an emotional experience, please realize that I realize it sounds laughable. Their lyrics are Springsteen on MDMA — consciously blue collar, sometimes cartoonish and unrelentingly surreal. But seeing those two guys, completely consumed in the moment, conjure such grand thrash-theater with just two instruments and vocals that indicate a future need for lozenges? To that, I only say “WHOA OH OH OH OH OH OH OH.”

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