Leave it to a band from British Columbia to finally get America rocking again.
Japandroids made a triumphant, no-frills return to Minneapolis on Tuesday night, after an absence of over four years, laying waste to First Avenue’s Mainroom for the very first time.
The Canadian duo of guitarist/vocalist Brian King and drummer David Prowse kept the accoutrements minimal for their transition to the bigger room, save for a bigger light show and a slightly more robust floor fan for King. Their focus remained on the rowdy batch of garage-rock anthems that’s had indie kids yelling like hell to the heavens for a decade now.
“It’s been a few years since we’ve played Minneapolis,” King announced at the start of the 90-minute set. “Thanks for remembering that we exist. We’ve played next door a million times and this is our first time in the big room, and it’s like a dream come true.” And indeed the band played like they were still auditioning for the affection of packed house, tearing into each raucous jam with the same urgency of their untamed early days.
The title track of their new album, Near to the Wild Heart of Life, kicked things off with a shot, and the pair wasted little time between songs. Working with just the bare minimum of a solitary guitar and drums, there’s nothing to a Japandroids song except an infectious riff and a thunderous rhythm. But their songs soar anyway, despite (or, perhaps, because of) these sonic limitations.
Plenty of bands make it to First Avenue before they’re ready, riding the buzz of a hit single or album. But Japandroids truly earned their way into the big room, after toiling away for years in the Turf Club, Entry, and Triple Rock. Throughout their breakneck show, the duo clearly seemed energized to be there and dead set on making their first time on that stage memorable.
Tempestuous old songs like “Wet Hair,” “Evil’s Sway,” and “The Nights of Wine and Roses” flowed alongside new jams “True Love and a Free Life of Free Will,” “No Known Drink or Drug,” and the massive “Arc of Bar,” which played out like a seven-minute confession for a religion that doesn’t yet exist. The Japandroids' new numbers have a scope and depth that builds on the rowdy framework of their earlier work without losing any of the fun, and the well-lubricated Valentine’s Day crowd sang along with celebratory songs old and new as if they were gospel.
“Here’s something special, since we haven’t played here in a long time,” King announced towards the end of a set that was already filled with special moments. “This is for the super old-school fans.” The tense and textured version of “I Quit Girls” that followed was an affectionate ode to the supporters who’ve stuck with the band since their whiskey-fueled 2009 trainwreck at the Turf Club.
Few bands playing today have songs as formidable and forceful in their arsenal as “Young Hearts Spark Fire” and “The House That Heaven Built,” the riotous combo that closed out Japandroids’ set, dispelling any worries that the group’s feral sound wouldn’t transfer well to a bigger room. Then the group eschewed the awkward formality of an encore by bringing out hometown boy Craig Finn (whom Brian endearingly referred to as “Mr. Minneapolis”) to sing lead on the Australian punk group the Saints’ “(I’m) Stranded.” This brought the night to a rousing close, with Japandroids once again proving that rock isn’t in any need of saving as long as they're still around.
The Crowd: A lot of guys and (for the lucky ones) their dates. Brian joked, “Here’s to all of the significant others who got dragged out to a Japandroids show on Valentine’s Day.”
A Note on the Opener: Craig Finn and the Uptown Controllers put on a good opening set. It’s always a pleasure to see and hear Finn perform at First Ave, and he’s always thrilled to be back home (even taking a crowd poll to see if we think the Twins will lose less than 103 games this year). His solo songs are still filled with references to his beloved hometown, and that material resonates even more with an audience who knows of those landmarks that he is singing about.
Near to the Wild Heart of Life
North South East West
True Love and a Free Life of Free Will
In a Body Like a Grave
Arc of Bar
The Nights of Wine and Roses
Midnight to Morning
No Known Drink or Drug
I Quit Girls
Young Hearts Spark Fire
The House That Heaven Built
(I’m) Stranded (The Saints cover with Craig Finn)