Japandroids feel like a strange experiment dreamed up by a mad scientist: How fast and loud can two people play their respective instruments? What if every note of every song sounds like the climax to a soaring classic rock track? What if all of that was filtered through the prism of blistering punk rock?
Even the name — Japandroids — sounds like an intergalactic army of killer robots straight from a bad ’50s B-Movie.
But there’s nothing mechanical about the exuberant, visceral live show from Brian King (guitar/vocals) and David Prowse (drums/vocals). The duo headlined a jubilant set on Nov. 15, 2012 at Neumos in Seattle, and I was lucky enough to witness the oft-combustible experiment explode firsthand.
That the show even happened is a minor miracle; owing to a lack of success, the band had decided to break up before the 2009 release of their debut, “Post-Nothing.” But the energetic, raw sound, combined with a relentless live show, won them fans around the world, and Japandroids stayed together. Throughout Thursday’s set, the duo seemed deeply aware of this unlikely story; King spoke at length about the band’s rigorous touring schedule and the enthusiastic crowd, while Prowse offered a surprised-sounding “Thank you!” after most tracks.
Japandroids’ two albums to date make up roughly 70 minutes worth of music. But they kept the party going for more than an an hour-and-a-half on Thursday, mixing in B-sides and rare cuts from a pair of self-released EPs that predate “Post-Nothing.” We ate up the likes of “Art Czars” and “To Hell With Good Intentions,” singing along and pumping our fists to every word.
With nearly two hours to fill, Japandroids drew heavily from both albums. “The Boys Are Leaving Town,” “Young Hearts Spark Fire,” and “Rockers East Vancouver,” all from “Post-Nothing,” sounded frenetic and frenzied, like the band was trying to speed through each track as quickly as possible. That’s not a knock on the band’s hard-hitting style, however, but a reflection of the sparser, more direct sound that defined their earlier work.
Cuts from “Celebration Rock,” released in June, evoked the more passionate responses, due in part to the record’s fuller, more thoughtful songwriting.
Album opener “Nights of Wine and Roses” played like a bomb waiting to go off — and explode it did, right as the band launched into the song’s most biting line, “We don’t cry for those nights to arrive, we yell like hell to the heavens,” punctuated by the most cathartic “Yeah!” ever uttered. Later on, “Younger Us,” an ode to the care-free days of a failed relationship, elicited some of the loudest sing-alongs and fist-pumps of the night.
But the night’s emotional centerpiece arrived with the anthemic single, “The House That Heaven Built.” The blistering song, one of the most fully-formed tracks in the band’s catalog, reached its crescendo with the surprisingly life-affirming declaration: “It’s a lifeless life / with no fixed address to give / But you’re not mine to die for anymore / so I must live!” The only people not screaming along were the motionless security guards. Fans took turns stage-driving and crowd-surfing, while everyone within 50 feet of the stage — your favorite blogger included — jumped around like five-year-old kids in the world’s most fun bounce house.
The crowd’s energy waned over the remaining 20 minutes or so, picking up just in time for the machine gun-like pace of the set-closing song, “For the Love of Ivy.” But trying to keep up with the Japandroids for nearly two hours is a tall task for even the most ardent fan. The band’s decision to forego an encore might have been its only misstep of the night; a brief respite would have given breathless fans the chance to catch to regroup. But no one seemed to mind. As the music stopped and the house lights came on, we were too exhausted and delirious to care.