The last time I saw Japandroids play at the Highdive, I was disheartened by the polite attentiveness of the crowd. They clapped, they smiled, they nodded their heads in approval, but while the energetic duo thrashed and sweated all over the stage, I wondered why the hell no one was dancing. Saturday marks Japandroids’ return to the Highdive, and this time I refuse to believe that Midwesterners have no setting other than “subdued”. Japandroids will play alongside other favorites from the Polyvinyl family, following avant-garde art rockers Xiu Xiu and leading off the awesomely odd Deerhoof. The night will be lively, ripe with imperfection and energy, the perfect time to let yourself be young, let yourself be unprincipled, throw your fist in the air, clap along!
Japandroids play energetic, head-swinging rock fueled only by Dave Prouse’s drums and Brian King’s guitar. They perform with an unrestrained exuberance that peals out in fuzzy guitars and rolling cymbals, a soundtrack to boundless summer. Japandroids write anthems for the moments before nostalgia sets in, for the nights where bonds are invincible and love is eternal. With their rough-edged, untechnical songwriting comes a youthful simplicity that is an invitation to relax, to indulge, to start a mosh pit or hold hands with a stranger. King and Prouse write with all the elegance of teenage boys, too, with “Heart Sweats” proclaiming “Your style’s such a mess girl/I should know, I used to date a stylist” and the entire lyrics of the six-minute “Crazy/Forever”: “We’ll stick forever together/stay sick together/Be crazy forever.”
At times the repetition and distortion dries out momentarily, but Japandroids always seem to return to a place of familiarity, with boyish incoordination punctuated by moments of glory. I still can’t listen to the Japandroids without hearing the hints of bands I fixated on as a teenager-Taking Back Sunday’s call-and-response vocals, Fugazi’s raw energy. Japandroids are still a relatively young band, with two EPs, a full-length, and one aborted breakup under their belt since they started playing in 2006. Time and experience may push them toward a sound that is more polished, more planned, and more even, but there is something endearing and timeless about their lack of finesse. They are unpretentious, honest, and their energy is contagious.