I went into the Bowery Ballroom with the highest of hopes. Hopes which were totally realistic considering the Japandroids had blown me away once before and are, generally speaking, a ferociously talented band. Their debut LP, Post-Nothing, is on the shortlist of albums that defined 2009 for me. Despite having every reason to expect a kick-ass show, it ended up being quite the opposite. I left the Bowery feeling pretty crushed. Hell, it breaks my heart to be writing this review. Perhaps I was a fool for getting my hopes up too high. That would only be fitting since it was April 1st.
It was a dire situation from the very first note. When singer/guitarist Brian King broke into “The Boys Are Leaving Town”, his guitar tone sounded noticeably and horribly off. At first, I assumed something wasn’t plugged in or an effects pedal needed stomping, but my more musically inclined friend pointed out that the guitar was simply out of tune. Sure enough, after pummeling through a limp sounding performance of “Boys”, King spent a good deal of time tuning his guitar. In fact, he was fiddling with his guitar’s tuning after almost every song.
None of this should have surprised me since King declared himself a “drunken asshole” when he first arrived on stage. Not that we needed telling – it was plainly obvious the man was a few sheets gone. While he frequently reminded us how excited he was to be playing in New York City and how special we all were to him, he also seemed rather pleased with his impaired state. I can only speak on what I witnessed on this particular evening, but Mr. King seems to be suffering from an acute case of hubris.
Drummer David Prowse deserves serious props for anchoring King’s careening performance. Prowse is an absolute beast on the drums, and an excellent singer to boot. Seeing Japandroids live again only heightened my appreciation for Prowse. It was also clear that he wasn’t terribly happy with having to pick up his bandmate’s slack. Although King is the “lead” singer, Prowse provides pretty constant back-up vocals. However, there was one song on which King relegated complete singing duties to Prowse. I can only assume King was too drunk, forgot the words, or some combination of both. Don’t get me wrong: Prowse did just fine with his frontman duties, but, it was a wholly unprofessional move nonetheless.
Thankfully, King and Prowse managed to deliver one knockout moment. “Wet Hair” was delivered in all its ragged glory with nary a flaw to be found. It was the third or fourth song played, so I was hoping it was an indication that the evening was getting on track. Sadly, it was simply an anomaly. During what should have been the night’s inevitable peak, “Young Hearts Spark Fire”, King made his biggest gaffe. About halfway through the song – when that heart-stopping breakdown comes in – King missed his cue and blamed the blunder on Prowse. On top of that, he brought the show to a screeching halt for what seemed like an eternity (in reality, probably about a minute) to berate Prowse with some crap joke about being “premature.” I didn’t see anyone else laughing.
As I already noted, there were several points during the evening where King told the crowd how fucking amped he was to be playing in New York City, for all of us, and the only thing that came close was playing their hometown of Vancouver. I sure as hell believed every word he said, and he played with unwavering conviction. However, no amount of passionate flailing and kind words could change the fact that his performance was a sloppy, uneven mess. Actions speak louder than words, bro.