The Japandroids looked and sounded like an entirely different band when they last played in Portland in November 2012. At that Wonder Ballroom performance, guitarist Brian King was visibly nervous when he walked onstage. He was breathing heavily and had to scream into the microphone and strike a few power chords before eventually settling in on the “Celebration Rock” tour. His voice was unable to match the range he records in, which robbed that night of its potential quality.
In the four long years since Japandroids’ last Oregon show, the Vancouver B.C. duo has transformed from an average live act with superb records into a stage-dominating headlining act full of confidence. The stage show now matches the quality of their anthemic records, which is no small feat.
As King and drummer David Prowse took the stage, flashing strobe lights made it look as if they were moving at half speed. They both moved with an air of confidence that was previously unavailable. Prowse slowly built the thunderous drum introduction of “Near To The Wild Heart Of Life.” With the final snare hit in the intro, the lights went dark: It was the calm before the storm of a nearly two-hour performance.
From the first chords of the song until the very end of the night, fans at the sold-out performance at Revolution Hall were screaming along at the top of their lungs. The crowd atmosphere at a Japandroids show is best summed up by a few lines from “The Nights Of Wine And Roses”: People downing drinks in a “funnel of friends” who “yell like hell to the heavens.” There is a sense of instant camaraderie among fans who know that everyone around them will be screaming just as loud as they are for the entirety of the concert. “Celebration Rock” is about as apt of a description as one could hope for.
King’s guitar setup included a wall of amplifiers that blasted a sound forceful enough to knock over the dive bars they previously toured through; Prowse’s drumming remains the integral backbone for the songs. Their sound has evolved as much as their lyrical content, yet fans were as confident in their abilities to sing along to the lyrically dense “Midnight To Morning” as the simplistic but succinct “Wet Hair” from 2009’s “Post-Nothing.”
Much of “Near To The Wild Heart Of Life” features synthesizers or acoustic guitars — but live, King stuck to his electric guitar for every song. Only the seven-minute “Arc Of Bar” needed additional instrumentation, which was easily achieved with a synthesizer loop played over the loudspeakers.
Craig Finn joined Japandroids for the final song of the night, a cover of AC/DC’s classic “If You Want Blood (You’ve Got It).” With Finn on lead vocals, Prowse and King were able to join in giving their entire attention to the crowd. Finn marched across the stage, pointing to as many fans as he could in an effort to up the crowd’s energy level.
Rarely can a band escape from stage without an encore, but instead of taking a break, Japandroids powered through to the very end. There was nothing more fans could hope for except a shorter wait time until the band’s next Oregon concert.
Craig Finn and the Uptown Controllers opened the set that featured a few selections from his upcoming solo album. The Hold Steady frontman played a much more mellow show than the standard Hold Steady outing, but Finn remained as articulate and animated as ever. His new album is called “We All Want the Same Things,” a title that he admits likely comes off as dark comedy at this point in American history. But he insisted that deep down, we do all want the same things: safety, freedom and rock ‘n’ roll music.
Whether or not it’s a universal truth that we all want the same things, the majority of the crowd left the venue with hoarse voices, sore necks from headbanging and crumpled beer cups in hand. There are few better ways to spend a Friday night than in the sweaty, beer-drenched mosh pit at a Japandroids show.
“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”
“I Quit Girls”
“Arc Of Bar”
“The Nights Of Wine And Roses”
“Midnight To Morning”
“No Known Drink Or Drug”
“Young Hearts Spark Fire”
“The House That Heaven Built”
“If You Want Blood (You Got It)” with Craig Finn
Follow Craig on Twitter: @wgwcraig
Additional photos below: