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all words: Philip Runco
all photos: Martin Locraft/Jane Briggs

Are you not entertained, DC?

Apparently you’re not, if body language is any indication.

It’s a familiar story. We’ve been here before. Everybody doing the standing still.

And while passive audience participation is nothing new – especially in this city – there was still something oddly remarkable about a group of people in close quarters remaining literally unswayed during raucous performances from Love is All and Japandroids on Monday night. The chillwave riders at last week’s Toro Y Moi show showed more life than this.

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But if there’s anyone to blame for this, don’t look on stage: the sets of Love is All and Japandroids were indeed full-throttled. Even the pairing of two Polyvinyl labelmates was inspired. While the bands approach garage rock with similar abandon, the two could not be more of emotional counterparts. Japandroids Brian King is all teenage hedonism, drunk on lust and feelings of invincibility without any consideration of the impending hangover. In contrast, Love is All’s Josephine Olausson is focused solely on that let down. Wearing her heartbreak on her sleeve, she’s self-aware and pessimistic, and, somehow, charmingly so. Love is All is the emotional yin to the Japandroids’ yang.

Or, in the words of Japandroids, “Some hearts bleed / Our hearts sweat.”

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Opening the night, Love is All drew mainly from Two Thousand and Ten Injuries. Which is a good thing since it’s, unassumingly, kind of a great record. 2008’s A Hundred Things Keep Me Up at Night, was chock-full of exhilarating moments, but its devotion to a singular full-speed approach proved exhausting. On Two Thousand and Ten Injuries, Love is All allows songs some wiggle room to develop and build, rather than going straight for the jugular. It’s a catchall record; stylistically the band’s most diverse. And while it may lack a defining single – a “Wishing Well” or “Felt Tip” – its front-to-back playability trumps its predecessors.

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The Swedish band led with Two Thousand and Ten Injuries’ jagged one-two punch of “Bigger Bolder” and “Repetition”. When the band launched into “Talk Talk Talk” a few songs later, the set began to hit its stride. Almost five years after kicking in the door of band’s debut Nine Times That Same Song, the song remains a beast, all screeching post-punk saxophone, buoyant bass, and biting call-and-response. Here and throughout the night, the backing vocals from Olausson’s supporting gentleman were spiritedly on point.

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Love is All eased pace for “Never Now”, a tender number with a descending keyboard line and the swing of a shanty. But after that lull, the band sprinted through the back half of its ten song set. The new “Early Warnings” and “Kungen”, with their blasts of sax and backing bah-bah-bahs, revisited the straightforward pop-punk template established on Nine Times That Same Song. The night peaked with the back-to-back “Dust” and “Wishing Well.” The former, an organ-led tale of a bandmate’s filthy abode, best captured the band’s newer patient approach, trying on several paces before erupting in its back third.

The latter, meanwhile, may be the best song in the band’s catalogue. Or, at least, it capture’s what the band is capable of when it fully harnesses its all-hand-on-deck glee. “Wishing Well” may feel sloppy, but it frequently turned on a dime, launching into a dynamite chorus and all the while riding a pogoing rhythm.

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Sloppy is something the Japandroids have mastered as well, but underpinning composure is notably absent. The band’s visit to Rock and Roll Hotel marked its third to DC in less than eight months, and the duo dished out the same enjoyably sloppy rawk that’s fun and stupid and ultimately empty.

After almost a year on the road, Brian King still acts like a kid who just discovered his big brother’s guitar. He paced the stage with nervous energy. He air drummed. He hocked a loogie.

Boys will be boys.

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However, to the band’s credit, it has developed a keener sense of manipulating the audience’s anticipation. Opener “The Boys are Leaving Town” was stretched out for over five minutes – first with King noodling alone, then with some loose jamming alongside drummer David Browse – before shredding began in earnest. “Wet Hair” was lengthened with an extended middle before climaxing.

Despite their efforts, the majority of the crowd remained firmly entrenched in their spots.

People don’t dance no more. They just stand there like this.

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