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Japandroids at Mohawk

all photos by Erik Casarez

all photos by Erik Casarez

There’s a line on the best song off Japandroids’ breakthrough album, Post-Nothing, that goes “we used to dream, now we worry about dying.” The line is a rallying call for the y-generation[1] to hold on to their youth while facing mortality, however, it also serves as an appropriate allegory for the current state of society as we enter a new presidency. It has only been a few weeks and the new administration has not only caused concern of those who feel marginalized, but doubled down on policy changes that are subject to further disenfranchise. Amongst these policy changes is the abandonment of health services for many women with the defunding of Planned Parenthood. The Canadian duo saw an opportunity to not only provide a night of catharsis through the outlet of live music, but also to service a good cause. On February 7, Japandroids played a rock and roll show at The Mohawk with ALL proceeds benefitting Planned Parenthood.

Promoted as an intimate show, the band packed the smaller indoor stage wall-to-wall; tickets sold out within an hour of announcing. Crammed shoulder-to-shoulder, there was quite the sense of unity in the building as we waited for the band to take the stage. The band didn’t allow too much time for anticipation, taking the stage nearly ten minutes earlier than scheduled, wasting no time jumping right into their discography.

Considering their latest album, Near to the Wild Heart of Life, debuted a few weeks prior, the band relished at the chance to share the new songs, some of which were being performed for an audience for only the second or third time. The new songs share a more subdued sound, an evolution of their songwriting prowess that makes sense when you examine the evolution of their previous releases.

Their debut album, Post-Nothing, plays on youthful nihilism with lyric sheets that read like tweets and a reckless abandon for driving chords and pounding drums. It was fitting for a post-post-9/11 world, with back-to-basics rock and roll delivery wherein it doesn’t matter what they’re saying, but rather how they’re saying it. It makes sense that they only sprinkled a couple of songs from this album as they are so far removed from it, both in time[2] and in style.

The bulk of their set was dedicated songs from the grand opus that is their sophomore album Celebration Rock. It’s difficult to discuss this album, without bordering on hyperbole, but in the grand scheme of things, it is one of the best rock and roll albums of all time. While Near to the Wild Heart of Life is a good album in its own right, it doesn’t live up to its predecessor. Every song on Celebration Rock is crafted masterfully combining raw energy with thoughtful lyricism. The songs are high energy and have some of the best driving hooks to come out of the indie rock world. Channeling mythos of rock’s yesteryear, the minimalist lyrics of Post-Nothing have been replaced with lines that could fill up an entire graduating high school class’ yearbook quotes. The lyrics provide a sense of broad introspection with a lack of contrived profoundness that is both sincere and endearing.

Near to the Wild Heart of Life takes this lyricism to even further depths with a more structured songwriting style. The lyrics are the spotlight on this album and, understandably, the music isn’t the driving force it was with the previous albums. They’ve grown over the last decade, both musically and as humans, and have adapted to the music world. There is very much a dad rock vibe that echoes through out the album, but those are just the elements of arena rock they have assimilated into their sound. Whether this is intentional or not, Near to the Wild Heart of Life could be the perfect transition from popular indie rock band to a band you hear regularly on the radio.

It’s easy to forget that Japandroids have been pretty active over the last decade. Bands have formed and broken up and reunited in the years guitarist Brian King and drummer David Prowse have been making music together. Near to the Wild Heart of Life’s softer sound could be seen as the band transitioning into a phase of a band riding into the sunset, but the energy of their live performance is what keeps them young.

Great live bands have a knack for energizing crowds and Japandroids are no exception. Throughout the show, they mentioned that in addition to raising money for Planned Parenthood that this would be a warm up for their upcoming tour. They did show small signs of rust, coming in late on cues or running short of breath but nothing that affected the overall crowd response. From start to finish, the crowd was engaged feeding off the energy of the band with every guitar swing and shouted out chorus in some kind of natural synergy that radiated the venue. Even the cross-armed folks in the back were swaying and bouncing along. There was a sense of unity that can only be matched by house shows or DIY guerilla shows. They closed the set with “The House that Heaven Built,” a proper anthem sendoff to a rock and roll catharsis. The world may be a scary place, but Japandroids showed that rock and roll can still bring people together to make a difference.

 

[1] That niche group of late twenty-somethings/early thirty-somethings born in between generation X and millenials.

[2] The album is nearly a decade old