Japandroids with Craig Finn & the Uptown Controllers at the Commodore Ballroom, 3/20/17
“A lot of people don’t want to go to Granville Street to get drunk and listen to a bunch of shitty music,” Japandroids guitarist Brian King told Melissa James in her 2010 documentary No Fun City. Ironically, seven years later, King and bandmate David Prowse found themselves selling out the Commodore Ballroom, a nightlife anchor on that very street. And they did so after they sold out the Cobalt merely five months earlier – on four consecutive nights.
As the frontperson for Brooklyn indie rockers the Hold Steady, opener Craig Finn and his solo back-up band the Uptown Controllers were no doubt a draw too; they certainly were for one Andrew Livingstone who received a nice birthday shout-out from Finn. The Boston-born, Edina-raised wordsmith may have seemed like an odd fit for Japandroids, but he too has explored the hangover as a topic, “not just the celebration and the confetti but also the puke in the gutter,” he told Pitchfork. And regardless of commonalities between Finn and Japandroids, the Hold Steady have never been strangers to playing with diverse bands ranging from Les Savy Fav to Kings of Leon to Dave Matthews Band to the Rolling Stones.
The Hold Steady are known for their dense lyrics delivered from classic rock altitudes. Finn’s solo work didn’t quite reach the same heights, but he still dialed up his songs live. Even the foggy “Western Pier” and the already rambling “Terrified Eyes” – both songs that prominently feature acoustic guitar – became more lively in their purely electric iterations; Finn added to them the same air of desperation that shrouded his other numbers including “Maggie I’ve Been Searching for Our Son” and “Newmyer’s Roof”.
Finn pointed out that he and Japandroids were capping off a five-week tour together. But that’s not the only reason why Japandroids’ homecoming was special. King explained (in another ironic note): “David and I started this band 11 years ago in Vancouver, and one of our dreams was to play the Commodore Ballroom.” The night was filled with shout-outs and thank-yous to family, friends, and long-time fans: King beamed at finally getting to see a friend who’d “travelled a long way” to be at the show, someone he hadn’t seen face-to-face in 10 years; “This one’s for anyone who’s been with us for a long time,” he said referring to “Younger Us”.
Some questions swirled as to how Japandroids would present their latest album’s expanded instrumentation. On last January’s Near to the Wild Heart of Life, the duo moved beyond just drums and electric guitar for the first time, incorporating synthesizer and acoustic guitar. But King and Prowse answered those questions by playing acoustic songs like “North East South West” and “In a Body Like a Grave” straight on electric and backtracking the synth on “Arc of Bar”, the band’s most ambitious song, one of such grandeur that Prowse exhaled extra-deeply afterwards.
No guessing was required for the rest of Japandroids’ set. “All you need to know is ‘oh ya, all right,’ and you fucking got it,” King instructed before “Evil’s Sway”. But no “oh”s – or “whoa”s or “ah”s – were more sweeping than on “The Nights of Wine and Roses”. “I know this song is about Friday-Saturday night, and I know it’s Monday, and I know a lot of you work tomorrow,” King acknowledged, but he urged fans to “dig deep” and sing along.
Finn joined Japandroids for the final song of the tour: a ballistic cover of AC/DC’s “If You Want Blood (You Got It)”. Japandroids gave everything except blood at their gigantic tour-end, come-home show. It’s difficult to imagine how they might have topped it at any one of their four nights at the Cobalt unless you were there. But if you were at the Commodore, one thing was for sure: you certainly got anything but “a bunch of shitty music” on Granville Street.
Japandroids set list:
- “Near to the Wild Heart of Life”
- “Fire’s Highway”
- “North East South West”
- “True Love and a Free Life of Free Will”
- “Younger Us”
- “In a Body Like a Grave”
- “Wet Hair”
- “Arc of Bar”
- “The Nights of Wine and Roses”
- “Evil’s Sway”
- “Midnight to Morning”
- “No Known Drink or Drug”
- “Continuous Thunder”
- “Heart Sweats”
- “Young Hearts Spark Fire”
- “The House That Heaven Built”
- “You Want Blood (You Got It)” (AC/DC cover, with Craig Finn)