Here’s how it goes at BRP: work hard all week, play hard all weekend. This week is no exception. Friday night, at a sold out Union Transfer, I was there to catch a truly brilliant live act out of Vancouver, British Columbia, the Japandroids.
The Japandroids are a duo: Brian King on guitar and David Prowse on drums. Both guys sing. There is no bass guitar. But they pack a wall of sound. We commented on the number and size of the amplifiers that lined the rear of the stage before the band performed, and it’s remarkable how two guys can make that much noise.
The band has been around for about a decade, but they aren’t prolific. They have, however, toured a ton, and their live act is refined and skilled. I’m familiar with the band’s first two albums, Post-Nothing (2009) and Celebration Rock (2012). The latter led to tremendous critical praise. Rolling Stone called it one of "The 10 Coolest Summer Albums of All Time", and Spin named them 2012's Band of the Year. So is it any wonder that the show was sold out? I told my concert posse that this would be a show to see and to grab those tickets fast. And I was right again.
So what does the band sound like? Japandroids' music features heavy distorted guitar, but no lead riffs. It’s all rhythm guitar, all the time. They do have a punky flavor, but also have a lot of classic rock influences. So the sound is accessible, and the crowd had a wide age gap to prove it. Hey, if you like Petty and Hüsker Dü, like your author does, you are in luck.
Proving how difficult and fickle the music business is, the band almost broke up. But with the release of their first album, pitchfork.com gave them a huge national spotlight. First, they named the song "Young Hearts Spark Fire" a 'Best New Track' designation. And then Pitchfork started the national bandwagon by giving the album a 'Best New Music' label.
The band doesn’t disappoint. They played all their great songs like “Young Hearts Spark Fire,” "Fire's Highway," "Adrenaline Nightshift," and "Evil's Sway. And the crowd was super into it. If you watch the video from “The House That Heaven Built,” which you will because I link to it below, you will see an audience that is big on fist pumps, singing of lyrics, chants on call and response vocals, and crowd surfing. The Philly crowd was certainly knowledgeable because this was one fist-pumping, singing, chanting and crowd surfing audience, your blogger included (well, not the CS part).
In fact, there was so much CS action, that Brian had to set a rule: you are allowed to be deposited on the stage, take a second to show off to your friends, and then dive back into the crowd. Otherwise, it was meet the bouncer time and off you go. We saw much of both, and one guy must have been up on stage on 3 or 4 different occasions. There was even the occasional girl up on top. The crowd on the floor was amazingly accommodative of all this crowd surfing, and some people were up on top of the crowd for a long time. Check out this picture:
Both guys are set up on the front of the stage – no “drummer in the back” thing here. Duos are like that. So it was cool to watch Dave ply his craft right in the front of the action. And it’s clear that the boys like each other, too. There were a lot of good vibes up there, and cool interaction between the two guys.
The band travels with its own light show. That eliminated the use of the dominant red/blue lights that make up the house rack at UT. Japandroids used lasers, spots, strobes, and everything in between. And while lights can sometimes distract, I thought that these ones enhanced the performance, and fit with the songs. For instance, while they were singing about French kissing French girls, the tricolors of the French flag were spotlighting across the crowd. It was pretty cool.
The only crappy part of the night was Craig Finn, the opening act. Finn is the leader of the band the Hold Steady, but he was touring under his own name with a backup band, the Uptown Controllers. Finn seems to think that he can write poetry and then just plop it on top of mediocre background music. Well, I guess he can, but that doesn’t mean it’s any good. Finn has an annoying habit of being over-earnest while he sings, and his lyrics aren’t as compelling as he seems to believe. Couple that with songs lacking hooks, and it was a good time to get a drink and visit the restrooms.
Finn did come out and sing the final song with the Japandroids, an interesting cover of the Saints “(I’m) Stranded.” (Thanks to my man Ryan for knowing the title to that song.) And then the band stopped playing – no encore, no b.s. Great!
Hey, I told you that it’s work hard, play hard, and now I’m off to DC for Saturday night to see the Tedeschi Trucks Band at the beautiful Warner Theatre. I’ll be back soon with a review of that show. In the meantime, you enjoy your weekend and know that I’m cheering you on to greatness. Rock it!
My name is Bill, and I live in the greater Philadelphia area. I love music, and I have a lot of opinions. This site is primarily focused on music, but sometimes I get off track. I hope you enjoy.