A band at the height of its powers, a club packed to the rafters, a soundsystem on overload. Japandroids, by any logic, should have been playing a larger venue in D.C. on 6/30 — the 1,200 capacity 930 Club seems to be where they’ll inevitably end up on the next tour — than the tiny Rock & Roll Hotel. But Celebration Rock, the Vancouver duo’s latest effort, exploded onto the scene like one of drummer David Prowse’s blitzkrieg fills, and the show sold out weeks in advance. That, combined with the bulldozer energy and Springsteenian earnestness of Japandroids, made the bill seem like the show of the summer.
And you won’t find me arguing. The show of the summer should, I suppose, leave one dangerously close to heatstroke, and spending an hour or so with Japandroids left me sweatier than I’d ever been in an entire career of too much sweating. My fingers were pruned, as if I’d just gotten out of the bath, and I was roughly as wet, too. This was the type of show where the vocals — in this case provided by Brian King, he of the indelibly youthful shout — come less from the PA than from the crowd, the majority of which echoed King’s every syllable back to him at the top of its collective lungs. Celebration Rock is the kind of rock album that fans talk of needing, not simply wanting or even loving. Make an album like that, and your shows become almost Pentecostal, people shrieking and shaking and flailing through the possession of some contagious spirit.
Of course, that’s not the only record in the band’s catalog. The older songs from Post-Nothing, Japandroids’ 2009 debut, are strong enough on their own, but they can’t hold a candle to the freebase charge of Celebration Rock. When the band segued from Celebration to Nothing, the crowd still thrust fists into air and sang along, but the actual songcraft on display couldn’t help but suffer in contrast. And that’s the thing — Post-Nothing is a great set of songs. Still, Braid is playing shows again, so do we need “Rockers East Vancouver” like we once did? “Crazy/Forever” works on a lullaby trick, its insistent repetition hypnotic on record, but it kills the pace of a frenetic live show. While most other bands would count their blessings after writing Post-Nothing, for Japandroids, the success of Celebration Rock highlights how much that earlier record works on winking ‘90s pastiche. All right — none of that matters too much when the band’s cutting through “Adrenaline Nightshift” or “The House That Heaven Built” or, my personal favorite, “Evil’s Sway” onstage. Take a breath during “Sovereignty” and get ready for the next anthem.
The Boys Are Leaving Town
Rockers East Vancouver
The Nights of Wine and Roses
The House That Heaven Built
Young Hearts Spark Fire
For the Love of Ivy