CHICAGO - Japandroids wasted no time at a sold-out Vic Theater in Chicago on Wednesday addressing the core themes responsible for the urgency in their songs. "The future's under fire/ The past is gaining ground," guitarist/vocalist Brian King sang in the opening seconds, the words spilling out of his mouth with the breathlessness of someone desperate enough to try anything to break away from the confines of a dead-end town.
For the next 95 minutes, the Vancouver duo wrestled with critical divides related to being caught between youth and adulthood. Noisy and exuberant, the band's music conveyed the magnitude of the issues and decisions at hand. Fate rivaled nostalgia, dreams collided with reality, stability vied with change, love competed against lust: Japandroids welcomed big drama and irony-free earnestness.
They also played every note as if tomorrow might not arrive and looked as if they wouldn't want it any other way. The go-for-broke attitude, along with a generous supply of wordless, arena-sized refrains, earned the group a growing fan base and the ability to tread a unique, independent-based creative path.
After experiencing breakout success in the wake of 2012's "Celebration Rock" album and hundreds of subsequent concerts, Japandroids took a lengthy hiatus that recently ended with the release of "Near to the Wild Heart of Life." In addition to ignoring industry protocol about continual output and exposure, the pair refrains from personal social media, declines licensing offers and keeps records to eight songs in length.
Such old-school idealism extended to Japandroids' straightforward, primarily minimalist approach. Save for a few spotlights, strobes and a large stack of amplifiers, the tandem could've been back at Schubas. Visually, nothing implied Japandroids were headlining their largest venue here to date. The performances, however, indicated a band far removed from its days as a scruffy, speed-obsessed, punk-influenced act.
For all the thrill-ride fun provided by early material - the nothing-to-lose escapism of "Wet Hair," tense angst on "I Quit Girls," communal debauchery of "The Nights of Wine and Roses" - Japandroids' newer, more ambitious material teemed with emotional depth and exhilarating transitions. Tumbling forward amid well-placed pauses, "In a Body Like a Grave" reflected on work, religion, desire, school and place. The geography-referencing "North East South West" doubled as a bullet-train ride through America as it weighed companionship against indulgence.
Drummer David Prowse, who has graduated into a force of nature, keyed the rhythmic interplay. His varied palette of rapid-fire fills, military-style marches, cymbal rolls and on-the-fly tempo adjustments turned stormy fare like "True Love and a Free Life of Free Will" into manifestoes. Prowse supplied force and wallop, yet also provided a combination of steadiness, articulateness and texture often foreign to hard-charging rock.
No wonder, then, that even for all the familiarity of the subjects - girls, drinking, traveling, innocence, worries - Japandroids made the outcomes sound remarkably fresh if not downright encouraging.