March 03, 2017 by Brian Cruice
When the Japandroids first announced their tour in support of “Near to the Wild Heart of Life,” it wasn’t New York City or their native Vancouver that sold out first, but a Friday-night stay right here in Philly at Union Transfer. A second night was added, and four months and one record release later the duo made their return to an uncannily sunny Philadelphia for a weekend full of sweat, beers and rock ’n’ roll.
Opening the show was The Hold Steady frontman Craig Finn. He performed a solid set of his solo heartland rock including a few tracks from his forthcoming “We All Want the Same Thing.” A few faithful fans had made their way to the front of the crowd, and their love for Finn was evident. As for everyone else, they waited with bated breath for Brian King and David Prowse of Japandroids to finally arrive.
When the duo finally took the stage, the room went dark and feedback fed the air as Prowse began an ever-increasing drum roll until the opening chords of “Wild Heart” were met by strobe lights flashing, and instantly a mosh pit was formed.
The fans had only had the record for less than a month, and the tour stops were still in the single digits, but the band already seemed confident in delivery and the crowd knew every word to the songs. It was a reassuring sign that the new material, originally made for the studio, would match the intensity of 2012’s “Celebration Rock,” a record that was created to be played live rather than born from the liberties of multitrack instrumentation.
That is not to say that “Celebration Rock’s” collection of anthemic choruses, guitar solos and drum fills is gone. “Adrenaline Nightshift” followed swiftly after King made a quick introduction mimicking rock interviewer and fellow Canuck, Nardwuar. A chorus of adoring fans chanted back at King “there’s no high like this,” which seemed to be a truism of the crowd, a cathartic release that comes from seeing a band live after a three-year absence.
“Nightshift” is a great example of the high octane dynamic of Japandroids past shows, but with more material, King and Prowse have devised a new, refined setlist to extend the show without tiring out the crowd. This is mostly allowed by the addition of slower, lyrically dense fare from “Wild Heart” to pace out the more hectic moments. Those hectic moments are still heavy and often, however, like during “Wet Hair” when the size of pit threatened to swallow the whole crowd.
This goes to show that King and Prowse care about these shows and that the fans enjoy them — immensely. Past interviews have revealed that the duo finds time in the studio laborious; Prowse and King have acknowledged that the reason they are a band is for the touring. And it’s not just the band’s technical chops that contributes to the rush fans receive when they kick off “The Night of Wine and Roses” or the first synth line on “Arc of Bar.” The efforts their stage team puts in to fill a room like Union Transfer with a simple kit and a six-string is astounding as well. Behind the duo stands a wall of amplifiers used to fixate the booming sound, and beyond that what I can only imagine is a truly excellent light display (it was tough to see from up front).
It all made for an inviting atmosphere, knowing how much care was invested in putting on the best possible show. The band took requests for songs that they haven’t played in years, such as “Heart Sweats.” King also invited fans to come on stage to crowd surf and stagehands helped to make sure everyone was safely returned to the crowd. At one point towards the end of the set, the stagehand even lifted King on his shoulders mid-song, carrying him around the stage.
By the time the closer “The House That Heaven Built” came around, the crowd’s collective catharsis had morphed into a sense of camaraderie — everyone brought together by what is easily the best show I’ve seen this year.