Japandriods Live: Owners of Rock
Two years and two months ago was the last time I saw Japandroids live. It was near the middle of their yearlong tour in support of their debut LP Post-Nothing, and you could tell that the number of people who showed up to the Echoplex that night astounded them. At one point, the duo botched the bridge of “Wet Hair,” laughed it off, and started again from the bridge. Any other band with a smidge of ego I might have taken a dig at, but Brian King and Dave Prowse are the most unpretentious individuals who play in a praised rock band.
On Friday June 15, 2012, two years after their last meeting with the Echoplex, Japandriods returned with a vengeance. Before they kicked off their set with “The Boys Are Leaving Town,” King was so appreciative of the sold-out show that he took a minute to thank everyone in the audience. It wasn’t an empty “thanks Los Angeles…” obligatory gesture but resembled a high school band blown away that people dug their music. But the heartfelt moment was the only time the Vancouver bashers gave time for more than a breath or two.
Song after song, the band tore through much of their blistering Celebration Rock (frontrunner for album of the year) along with a fair chunk of Post-Nothing. Two years ago, I remember the crowd chanting along to every lyric, but it’s important to remember that the place was also half-full. Only the diehards were in attendance. This time around, you had to fight for any space you wanted near the stage, but that chanting was tenfold louder and more intense. Despite the unending slabs of fuzz, Japandriods are a pop band at heart. They’ve written these songs specifically for a live setting and for crowd participation. The structures of their sets are crafted to allow for maximum (and excuse the childish of this) rocking-out. For a band so far from bloated, ego-stroking guitar solos, King has continually cited Gun ‘N Roses’ Appetite for Destruction as one of his favorite albums of all-time. Though the duo has ditched every ounce of the bravado of the Sunset Strip band, the brutal energy is there in spades. If you’re looking for a drummer to look up to, Prowse is the textbook example of a basher. I don’t know how this guy keeps the level of energy he tosses around.
While the Post material is road-tested and foolproof for the band, the new tracks hooked the crowd like no other just-released album I’ve seen in my life. Only released two weeks ago, “Evil’s Sway” instigated a hollering match so furious between King and the crowd that I’m not sure I heard much of King. I was certainly guilty of joining in. When a band is able to marry dense rock’n’roll and infectiousness without falling into a parody (far more difficult than it sounds), it’s tough for me to believe that anyone could resist.
Perhaps the best example of this marriage came (live, anyway) during the band’s lead single “The House That Heaven Built.” While not usually one to think that a lead single is the best track on the album (because it usually isn’t), there’s no doubt in my mind that “The House” is the best single-song example of everything the duo does well. A roar came from the crowd during the opening chords, and King’s impassioned vocal performance lit the room on fire. The “Oh oh’s” during the verses swept the room like a wave of hard-earned sunshine. “It’s a lifeless life with no fixed address to give/But you’re not mine to die for anymore so I must live,” King hollered; but at this point, he was singing along with the crowd, not the other way around.
As the band finished their set (sorry, no encore) with the curious choice “For the Love of Ivy,” it was clear by looking at the people around me that we’d been worn-out. For 65-minutes, the band pushed us, pulled us, thrashed around, and reaffirmed my faith in the power of volume and rock’n’roll joy. You don’t have to be dark to be sincere. Perhaps the most relatable and life-affirming band of our generation, Japandriods proved to me again that they own rock’n’roll, and if you are looking to start a band you had better take a loan out from them.