“Near To The Wild Heart Of Life” deserves to be called the most explosive track off Japandroids’ newest album of the same name so it’s natural that they chose it to be their rocket fuel on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert on Tuesday night. The band showed up to play a show, to blast off with a studio audience and transport the whole crowd to a stadium. With David Prowse sitting behind the drum kit and Brian King up front with the guitar, the band pulled off a thrilling show that didn’t care about the studio environment or replicating the sound of the album.
See, another artist might have brought along a backing track to replicate the banging and strumming noise that opens the song on the album. They could have done it themselves, taking half a minute to flail on their instruments to fade into the opening chords. But Japandroids know that an audience doesn’t want to hear that. That knowledge is one of the reasons that their brand of lo-fi—but by no means imitation—rock and roll has earned so many fans.
The audience, whether they know the band or not (it’s a Colbert audience, after all, not specifically Japandroids fans), is there to see a show. Many artists prepare for this by designing other-worldly sets, synchronizing complex dances involving dozens of costumed professionals and practicing to a backing track that includes all the studio sound effects and harmonies so that the performance exactly mirrors the recorded song.
For some genres that involve a lot of sound manipulation—sampling, vocal effects, the works—this might be the only way they think they can perform the song faithfully. The artist wrote it, so the performance of it is up to their design, and it often produces some undeniably spectacular shows. The Japandroids’ performance on Colbert’s show is the latest example of the other end of the spectrum: how two people can totally capture an audience and move them into a song without any visual theatricality. Prowse and King center themselves, alone (okay, there must be a bassist hidden on stage somewhere) in the music and pull the audience in with their adrenaline-high energy and lyrics that are romantic without being cheesy.
The point is that Japandroids don’t even need the flashing lights. They can put on a show with just a drum kit, a guitar, a microphone and a tall stack of amps behind them. No one’s worrying that the harmonies aren’t quite right. King could shout the song to the same effect. And no one’s panicking about monitors or missed cues. As long as a complete electrical circuit puts sound through the amps, Japandroids are ready to hurl their audience into a breathless and abrasive rock and roll concert, where “all hell’s breaking loose.”