What does it mean for a rock band known for singing about getting drunk in nameless bars and kissing “sunshine girls” to age gracefully? Japandroids proved at their show on March 9th at the Fonda that they will not go gently into that good night. Bringing a blistering set of songs, including those from their new record Close to the Wild Heart of Life, they showed that they are as alive as ever.
It could have gone badly. A quick glance around the venue would reveal a motionless crowd of men in their late twenties and early thirties, who all looked like they came to be the only one standing at the edge of a crowd of moshing youth. The ideal Japandroids show is in a tiny, dimly lit bar with sticky floors and a rowdy audience thrashing the night away. At least, that’s the life they depict in their music. But in the comparatively cavernous Fonda with a lifeless crowd that had work in the morning, it was easy to see that rockstar life as a cheap, fake facsimile of the real life of a rock musician, traveling from show to show playing for an aging fan base who haven’t moshed in years and don’t want to hear anything from the new album. Shut up and play the hits, as it were.
That being said, Japandroids were more than up to the challenge. Playing a mix of older classics, surprising deep cuts from Post-Nothing, and new songs, they were thrilling and sublime. It is incredible that they are able to fill a room with sound so completely with only two instruments; while singer/guitarist Brian King utilized a few looping pedals, most of the songs were just drums and a guitar riff, and yet never grew tiring. In a world where the White Stripes have broken up and the Black Keys have ballooned to four musicians onstage, Japandroids might be the last bastion of two-man rock and roll.
About those new songs? They fucking rock. Of note especially is “Arc of Bar”, the seven-minute centerpiece of Wild Heart of Life and of the show as well. It’s the band’s first flirt with electronics, and it was exhilarating to see drummer David Prowse sing the song’s anthemic “yeah-ahh”s with even more gusto live than on the record. No one does an anthemic “yeah-ahh” like Japandroids, even after all these years.
In their between-song banter, King and Prowse were nothing but humble, exclaiming their thankfulness to be playing two nights in LA and for the warm reception the new songs had received. King, overflowing with boyish charm, shrugged off a guitar malfunction that was the only mishap in a night of perfectly timed playing. Watching the wordless communication between the two musicians to get the timing just right was akin to a masterclass in performance, proof that King and Prowse have honed their on-stage relationship through years of touring.
In the end, a mosh pit did form - it’s pretty much impossible to not mosh during “The House That Heaven Built”. The lethargic audience had been shaken awake by rock and roll. With one last anthemic “yeah-ahh”, Japandroids cemented their legacy and left the stage, hopefully to return many times to Los Angeles on future tours.
GREG FEINGOLD, DJ
SPACE JAM, THURSDAYS 8-9 P.M.