Canadian (!!!!!) duo Japandroids’ second record, the glorious Celebration Rock, begins and ends with fireworks. Literally. To think the lovechild of Brian King and David Prowse almost didn’t happen hurts; such is the impact the exuberant songs have made on today’s youth, or simply those mourning a loss of it. This isn’t the Vancouver two-piece’s first time around the block. Forming in ’06, they broke out as a must-see band in the west coast city’s music scene and almost called it quits before releasing their brilliantly-titled debut, Post-Nothing. Following a tour cut short by a health scare, the band took time off as the noise surrounding their jubliant debut built to a climax after Pitchfork featured their song, ‘Young Hearts Spark Fire’, in the coveted Best New Track spot. Recovered and set to begin work on the critical follow-up, they were frustrated by a lack of progress in their home city so they packed their bags and headed to Nashville for a change of scenery. It worked and the rest is history…
Toronto acts as a lot of Canadian’s band second home and on December 11th, 2012 it felt like the sold-out crowd at Phoenix Concert Theatre was welcoming home a prodigal son. A line to get in the venue snaked down Sherbourne street despite the sub-zero temperature. Those who were’t fortunate enough to get tickets haggled with scaplers who had them priced at sixty a piece. After the show, one would have said it was worth it.
With an all-ages show at the Phoenix, there is always the risk that the atmosphere will be less than lively. Those who are drinking are given a wristband and stamp which allows them to enter what one could call the “herding area” at the back of the venue and get a drink. Large barriers separated those who weren’t drinking from the bars. Quite a diverse audience was in attendance, ranging from the typical twenty-something Torontonian to what looked like businessmen and women clad in suits. A few of the latter were situated right in front of me in the line and approached me with questions. They were friends with King’s mother and had come to support him, but were unfamiliar with his band’s music. Their enthusiasm was nice to see and I tried hard not to sound like an elitist douchebag as I described the gruff nature of the crowd saying, “You guys wouldn’t want to be up there”. We parted ways as we entered the venue; they went on their way to the bar, and my friend and I nabbed second row.
Brooklyn upstarts, DIIV, were slated to open. Formed as a solo project in 2011 by Zachary Cole Smith of Beach Fossils, the band has gathered steam as their debut, Oshin, garnered critical acclaim from the likes of Pitchfork, NME, and SPIN. The band scarcely had time to soundcheck for their brief half-hour set as they appeared to hop right out of the tour van and onto the stage with their instruments in tow. Joined by Andrew Bailey, Devin Perez, and Colby Hewitt, the group launched right into their extremely distorted brand of shoegaze that wasn’t met with much enthusiasm from the crowd. Maybe it was a case of not being familiar with the music — I must confess to this — or just the juxtaposition between them and the infinitely different main act; which in a nutshell means, everyone was impatient to mosh and Cole’s barely audible vocals weren’t doing the trick. Oshin is a better listen in its birthplace, the bedroom, where one can let go and drowsily let the album wash over them, pun intended. DIIV walked off to scattered applause.
With what many certainly thought of as a barrier to the real fun out of the way, the energy level in the building was palpable with people anxiously chattering all around. The two walked on stage and gave an introduction to those who didn’t already know who they were, “I’m Brian, that’s Dave, and we’re Japandroids. This is our first time back in Canada after being gone for a long time and it feels so, so good.” The madness that then took over is hard to describe, for I doubt anyone had a real grasp of what was going on since a mosh pit broke out as soon as the band started playing ‘Adrenaline Nightshift’. (Here’s a video of that particular moment. I am the tall bespectacled youth standing right underneath King and Prowse) It was tough to disagree with King as he earnestly sang “there’s no high like this”.
For a two-piece band, Japandroids take care to present themselves in a carefully cultivated light. Image is everything for these guys, and you can tell by the way it matches their gargantuan sound. Flanked by a massive wall of amps, the gangly King is every bit the rockstar, flailing about wildly as his sopping wet hair takes on a life of its own. What is now considered King’s uniform, a fitted tee with the sleeves rolled up, has lent credence to comparisons with a young Springsteen. A powerful fan placed at the edge of the stage made every moment photo-worthy, blasting the lead singer’s hair in every direction. With their towering image, Japandroids literally look and sound like their music should be blasting in stadiums rather than mid-size venues.
After ripping through former show-opener, ‘The Boys Are Leaving Town’, King took a moment to address the crowd, informing them that Montreal was great the other night and he thought we could do better. To the delight of everyone there, he said, “I want a lot of mayhem going on tonight, so I’m giving each of you 10 seconds on this stage. But that’s it, I don’t share the spotlight with anyone”.
Naturally, a plethora of would-be crowd surfers flooded the stage, each with a wild grin on their face. It was a great example of the nostalgia for lost youth that the band fearlessly confronts. Covering such subject matter when they are just short of 30 years-old means that the band always flirts with appearing cliché, but seeing grown men in the audience have the time of their lives made it evident that Japandroids are the furthest thing from corny.
Aware of his own tendency to dominate the spotlight, King took some time to make sure that Prowse got his share of the limelight. Before shredding through ‘Evil’s Sway’, King pointed at Prowse and his drumset, saying, “You’re not going to want to go for a cigarette just yet because something crazy is going to happen right there during the next one”. The drummer’s subsequent solo definitely lived up to the hyperbolic hype.
Lengthy tours had obviously solidified the band’s stage presence and made them more comfortable when making banter with the audience. King stopped to address the crowd as it neared midnight, “Listen, I know it’s a school night and most of you have to get up in the morning and go to work or whatever, but we don’t really give a sh*t…we’re gonna play a few more for you”, which evoked a frenetic ovation and lead to such wild moshing that someone lost their shoe.
The liveliest take on the new album, ‘The House That Heaven Built’, pushed the venue’s sound system to its limits and may have even caused a minor earthquake. It also lead to what looked like a 14 year-old being escorted off-stage after he broke the 10-second rule during the song. King stopped playing and did his best to look furious — “10 f*cking seconds! You guys broke my rule! You can break any other rules but not mine,” — before picking up right where he left off.
King shared their appreciation for the fans continuous support with a tender sentiment that garnered a huge cheer, “Our bodies and voices are destroyed, so your enthusiasm for the music is what’s helping us go out there and finish this tour.” Opting to play their set straight to the finish, King and Prowse eschewed an encore in favour of ripping through the cathartic ‘Young Hearts Spark Fire’ and ending with a racous cover of Gun Club’s ‘For The Love of Ivy’, during which King climbed onto the drumset and played his guitar with a rabid ferocity that was echoed by the crowd. After the show, eager fans crowded the stage in a bid to get the setlist or just a few words with the two guys who let their tremendous fatigue show for the first time that night.
It is bitterly ironic that the duo made such a joyful, life-affirming second record, for King himself almost died before it was released. The singer has suffered from stomach ulcers his whole life, and he talks about the unexplained health problem in a piece written by SPIN’s David Bevan.
Let’s hope that King can conquer his malady, if only because of the selfish desire for more music that will make many fans go crazy/forever.
- Adrenaline Nightshift
- Fire’s Highway
- Art Czars
- The Boys Are Leaving Town
- The Nights of Wine and Roses
- Rockers East Vancouver
- Younger Us
- Heart Sweats
- Wet Hair
- Evil’s Sway
- To Hell With Good Intentions (Mclusky Cover)
- The House That Heaven Built
- Continuous Thunder
- Young Hearts Spark Fire
- For The Love of Ivy (Gun Club Cover)