Brian King said that while he and David Prowse had had a blast at the Larimer Lounge this past June, they were going to do even better tonight he declared. As promised, the pair proceeded to do just that with every single one of the seventeen songs of their set with a display of raw power and passion the likes of which you almost never see. Appropriately enough the show got off the ground with "Adrenaline Nightshift."
It was impressive how many people knew the words to so many of the band's songs last night. But then again, Japandroids have written anthemic tunes that stick with people like some pop punk bands did with kids in the '90s -- except these songs have connected with people of a broad age range. What person with feelings of discontent in this era of discontent couldn't feel like "Fire's Highway" speaks directly to a yearning for inspiration and finding a way of making your own?
While the outfit treated us to older songs like "Avant Sleepwalk" from its first 7-inch, the song that made people go nuts the most was "The Nights of Wine and Roses," a standout song among standout songs on Celebration Rock. When King jumped about the stage and lunged forward and then backward with the momentum of the music, you couldn't help but feel the exuberance and joyful release he and Prowse were able to unleash within themselves.
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At one point, King started playing the opening riff for what sounded like "One" by Metallica, and then he and Prowse crashed right into "Wet Hair." Later, King asked if anyone saw Japandroids the first time the band played in Denver at the hi-dive. Looked like no one had, and King said he'd be surprised if there were because there were about ten people at that show, and he recalled how he and Prowse had closed the show with the McClusky cover, "To Hell With Good Intentions."
Before playing that song, he said he had one more thing to get it off his chest and then he proceeded to tell us that the Avalanche suck. Some of us laughed. He then told us that we could come up to Vancouver and say the Canucks suck and that it would be only fair.
When the band played "The House That Heaven Built," even more bedlam broke out in the audience as people jumped up and forward down front, chanting along to the lyrics. As ever, King looked at times as though he was being dangled from a string, like he wasn't in complete control of his actions. Which just added to a sense of free, unbound energy on stage.
This most dynamic and inspiring of shows, even better in many ways than the Larimer Lounge performance in June, ended with Japandroids' superb cover of the Gun Club's "For the Love of Ivy." King would deliver each stanza of lyrics with a mesmerizing burst of intense energy and then turn back and interact face to face with Prowse.
Both musicians really ramped up the energy with each iteration until the very end. There was no encore. But then how can you do an encore after such a blistering display for an hour and a half? It would have cheapened what Japandroids gave us in spades -- a fiery, sustained period of real inspiration and excitement. It was exactly the kind of thing maybe you didn't know you needed until you got it.
Swearin' from Philadelphia opened the show with a sound that was very much a mid-90s alternative rock sort of thing -- the Breeders, perhaps the Pastels, a touch of Weezer and the Pixies. Some of us have seen this sort of thing in the '90s aplenty and may not have been blown away by any originality here. Just the same, none of it felt like a nostalgia trip. The band played with a real sense of fun and exuberance. It was also incredibly refreshing not to see a younger band adopting that garage and/or surf rock vibe for a change. When's the last time you saw a new band invoke the loud-quiet-loud style of music exemplified in the music of Mission of Burma and The Pixies?
It's been so out of fashioned and uncool for so long, that seeing this band do it well -- like they were rediscovering a whole vein of influence most modern bands have dumped, and then reinventing it and giving it life with an adroit playfulness -- was refreshing. Sure it would be easy to compare Kyle Gilbride's vocals to those of John Atkins when he was in 764-Hero, or even Allison Crutchfield to Tonya Donelly, but both have excellent voices that are very much their own and ultimately the same could be said of the music. "Kill 'Em With Kindness" was especially forceful, fun and splintery.
Personal Bias: Japandroids are one of the very few rock and roll bands that make you excited about rock music because those guys are so excited to be playing it and engaging with the audience in a positive and real way.
Random Detail: Japandroids actually sold cassettes at the merch table.
By the Way: Celebration Rock should be on the year-end best list of every music critic that has an interest in rock music. Also, Swearin' have an excellent self-titled album that was released on Salinas Records this year.
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