Live Review, 6/14/12: Japandroids Bring Their Humble Fury to the Independent
Japandroids at the Independent last night.
Thursday, June 14, 2012
Better than: The nights of wine and roses that you don't remember.
"This is a long way from the Hemlock Tavern," remarked Japandroids singer-guitarist Brian King last night onstage at the Independent, surveying a sold-out crowd that dwarfed that of the band's first S.F. show nearly three years ago. King was just warming up, announcing in an oddly humanizing pre-show chat that his critically acclaimed, gloriously overdriven duo would begin with some old material, then work into songs from Celebration Rock, its deliriously energetic new album.
In a brilliant bit of planning, the energy escalated through the set. Starting with little movement from the crowd -- even though nearly every one of this band's songs is a face-melting fountain of blurry chords and hammering drums -- Japandroids peaked at the end, as the band ripped through its original hit "Young Hearts Spark Fire" and followed it with a more recent cover of the Gun Club's "For The Love of Ivy." Opposed to playing encores and other "pretentious music industry bullshit," King promised to leave every last bit of energy on the stage, and the band did: The cover's bluesy pause-attack-pause-attack sent the front-center of the venue floor into fits of pushing and crowd-surfing, King stood atop drummer David Prowse's kick drum for a rambunctious solo, and by the end, the kit was knocked over into pieces, with King's wall of amplifiers howling. The room was awash with sweat and grins.
Yes, this is "boy-rock," as a friend put it -- not as a compliment but as a comment on its boneheaded-ness. Two skinny dudes blasting out anthems to drinking and partying and being young and not wanting to die and worrying about girls. This has been done before, a hundred million times. It should be stale. It isn't stale at all. What Japandroids contribute to the canon of fist-pump rock is an uncanny balance of energy and minimalism. Sonically they're basic but huge: Just hyperactive drums, a guitar sound that bleeds into the entire tonal spectrum (thanks to its running through a bass amp and two sets of guitar amps, along with who knows what pedals), and vocals that are more shouted than sung.
Alone that wouldn't be enough, but good rock always has one essential ingredient -- energy -- that Japandroids supply with required excess. Prowse can hold up the entire rhythm of these four-to-five-minute rock songs while inserting fills everywhere possible, making every song feel like a climax. Just watching him is exhausting. What calories King doesn't expend thrashing the strings of his guitar he spends bouncing, shaking his head furiously from side to side, and careening about the nearly empty stage, as if his physical person were straining to contain the outburst coming from deeper inside him. And of course like any good frontman, he manages to transmit this elation to his audience.
The band has grown more anthemic with Celebration Rock, whose Springsteenian regular-guy-hero-worship suits the unassuming duo extremely well. Every one of its eight songs is good; even the slowish closer, "Continuous Thunder," whose mellower tempo King inexplicably felt obligated to apologize for last night. But it's the ones that make you want to explode -- "Adrenaline Nightshift," "The House That Heaven Built," and "Fire's Highway" -- that went over best in the crowded confines of the Independent. Lyrically they're in bromance reminiscing and fuck-yeah empowerment territory: "If they try to slow you down/Tell them all to go to hell"; "there's no high like this"; "She'll kiss away your gypsy fears/ And turn some restless nights to restless years." And that works just fine -- there's no room for more verbiage. All these songs need is something simple, wistful, and shoutable. They're not lacking in meaning; it's that their meaning is much in the fevered delivery as the lines themselves.
In 2009 this band played to a sold-out crowd in the Hemlock's dark, humid backroom box. Seeing them on a large stage last night didn't supply quite the same in-your-face thrill of the small room, but it felt right in another way: With a sound this big and elated, Japandroids deserve a stage and an audience of commensurate size. They've got enough energy to make a much larger crowd crazy.
Personal bias: I have the poster from the 2009 Hemlock show on my wall, so yeah.
The photos: We managed to forget both memory cards for our real camera last night, so all we can offer is iPhone photos. Sorry. Just put your face really close to the screen and shake your head around a lot while playing Celebration Rock at max volume. That's what it was like.