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Japandroids at Newport Music Hall, photo by Matt

I am consistently amazed by the prevalence of crud guitar rock. Commercials, and particularly sporting events (especially my beloved hockey) often seem to revert to a crunchy, derivative rock sound when attempting to build a brand soundtrack. It’s a shame, really, when such high-energy rock is at their fingers and, for hockey, very Canadian. Yes, Japandroids (those responsible for last year’s Album of the Year) are the perfect tonic to the listless parts of their genre. Exciting, explosive, and anthemic songs can all be found in the band’s catalog so I thoroughly anticipated their arrival in Columbus to bring their sound to the live setting. Luckily, very little of the entire night disappointed.

Things started on a positive note from opener Crocodiles. I went into the show knowing literally nothing about the band, but came away very impressed. Their high tempo sound provided a solid foundation for the evening. Interesting rhythms and strong guitars defined their performance and certainly impressed. While I wouldn’t go too far to view the band again, I’d likely find my way to another show if they wandered through Columbus again.

When the main act started, the mood in the crowd quickly elevated. Japandroids are “only” a two-man group, a guitarist/singer and a drummer, but they generate an enormous sound and energy. Previously, I’d seen Black Keys play in a duo-configuration. This was the more powerful version of that style and far more satisfying. Much of the vibe found in Japandroids’ most recent record is reflective of its title: it’s Celebration Rock. That tone and enthusiasm was infectious. All the cuts from that record were amplified when played live. All the “whoa-ohs” and easily clap-able drum parts instantly turned into audience participation and gave the band’s giant riffs an even greater weight.

Unsurprisingly, Japandroids’ catchiest material (nearly all off Celebration Rock) translated to the best live efforts from both band and listeners. The breakdown in “Younger Us” was pure bliss, the buildup for “Fire’s Highway” paid off brilliantly, and  opener “The Nights of Wine and Roses” was mentally liberating. I know, these are all rather hyperbolic proclamations, but the adrenaline rush of screaming back “ohs” and return verses in “The House that Heaven Built” is something I’ve never felt at a concert before. Yelling out “Tell them all to go to hell” pushed the lyrics even further from text on paper or monitor. It was real and visceral.

Of course, the live setting did have one drawback for the Canadian rockers: their vocals. Singer/guitarist Brian King wasn’t always able to hit the higher notes from his recorded performances and while the change did manage to drag the start of a few songs, the audience adapted quickly. It should be noted, the band never lost a beat and drove ahead anyway with a pleasant demeanor. Their banter felt genuine, and the rock energy never left the songs.

Japandroids are probably the premier pure rock band today and their high-energy, guitar-heavy live show was an outstanding way to experience their already-great songs. If the band comes near you, be sure to give them a shot and let their brilliant music into your ears.