All words: Andy J — All photos: Kara Capelli
I don’t have to tell you how stank-hot Saturday was. You were there. You survived. I was one of the millions to lose power. My apartment was hotter than a balrog’s arsehole. I had to escape. It was a more prudent decision to spend an evening crunched against the stage in the notoriously poorly-ventilated Rock ‘N’ Roll Hotel than lay on my couch. Good thing that one of the best rock groups in modern music happened to be in town.
With the possible exception of last year’s ridiculous Odd Future spectacle, this was the most crowded I’ve ever seen the Hotel. People were backed up all the way to the doors. Movement was difficult, impossible at times. DC’s punkrawkers and hipsterati were packed in tight with occasional pockets of oxygen, like a shitty game of Tetris. The usual string of scalpers was nowhere to be found on H St. NE, replaced by a throng of noise addicts sketchily inquiring passersby for an extra ticket. One bozo contacted me via Twitter as part of a scheme to solicit everyone who had discussed “Japandroids” in the past 24 hours. I dunno if he was successful, but he gains style points for resourcefulness.
Dressed for the occasion in a tank top and blue-and-purple gym shorts, Montreal-based rapper Cadence Weapon opened the show. Despite his best efforts, he had difficulty getting the audience moving. The crowd seemed beat from a day in the heat. “Jukebox”, a song from his new album Hope In Dirty City landed flat. It wasn’t until he paused to mention that Sunday was Canada Day and gave a shout out his girl Claire Boucher (aka Grimes) by rapping over the beat from “Eight” off her breakthrough album Visions that the crowd went crazy.
Weapon noticed the shift and upped his stage presence. (I wrote in my notebook: finally put his swag on). Instead of standing still and flicking his fingers as he spit, he roamed the tiny stage, circling back and forth and busting out his “OG Cadence Weapon beats.” He commanded us to “Get your fists up” and work up what must have been the fourth or fifth sweat of the day. By the time he got to single “Conditioning,” a sweltering track that transitions from rapping to singing to screaming, Weapon won us over. For three minutes, a true rap/punk hybrid existed in this reality that was not hot garbage. I saw it. It exists. Good luck with that Polaris Prize, rollercoaster.
It’s fitting that DC was under a State of Emergency Saturday night. Last time I saw Japandroids, they massacred the Red Palace (I was one of the only survivors). I expected nothing less from the Vancouver duo than a balls-out show in support of the excellent Celebration Rock, unquestionably one of the best albums of the year. A supremely talented band on a tough Saturday night in a malnourished venue? This was gonna be a good one, folks.
Drummer David Prowse and guitarist Brian King took the stage at a prompt 9:45 and went straight into an extended version of “The Boys Are Leaving Town.” The temperature in the room rose 10 degrees. A pit got going near the stage for “Adrenaline Nightshift,” one of the more powerful songs off the new album—who am I kidding, they’re all powerful. For just two guys, they put on quite a racket. Less serious than the White Stripes and devoid of a Black Keysian arc for world domination, the duo gets away with goofy lyrics like “Remember that night you were already in bed, said ‘fuck it’ got up to drink with me instead!” because this is an actual scenario that the Japandroids could face. I can see King or Prowse in the situations they sing about. I suppose I have to use the word “authentic” at this point, even though it aches my bones to use. Nevertheless, do you have any clue what “Gold On The Ceiling” is about? The fuck is an Icky Thump? Yeah, all three groups rock, but at least “Rockers East Vancouver” speaks for itself.
Cadence Weapon and Japandroids mentioned several times that this was the penultimate night of their tour. King told the crowd that nostalgia was starting to creep on him on. To compensate, he said that the group were going to go hard as they possibly could. Yes, they were going to leave it all on the dance floor.
“The Nights of Wine and Roses,” the blistering opening track from Celebration Rock, was a highlight, the entire crowd singing along as their t-shirts and glasses got progressively stickier. Prowse’s endless drum fills propelled “Wet Hair” as King cried out for French-kissing some French Girls. One slight: I was hoping they’d deviate from their usual set—every song from Celebration Rock made an appearance—and play their raucous cover of Mclusky’s “To Hell With Good Intentions.” I recognize this is a trivial complaint, but the band deserves some credit for wisely dropping the clunky “Heart Sweats” and “I Quit Girls” from their setlist.
The club erupted for “The House That Heaven Built,” the obvious Song Of The Summer. The joy of King and Prowse yelps of “When they love you and they will/ (And they will!) / I’ll tell ‘em all they’ll love in my shadow” was contagious. If you weren’t soaked in sweat, it’s probably because you hate fun. “Crazy/ Forever,” one of Japandroids’ slower songs, gave the audience a few minutes to relax before the duo ripped into personal favorite “Sovereignty.” These might be some dumb punk songs about drinking too much and fucking too little, but Brian King can really shred and Prowse is his perfect foil.
I can’t emphasis enough how much of a jam “Continuous Thunder” is, a slash of emotional purity in a cynical time as King sings, “If I had all the answers / and the body you wanted / would we love with a legendary fire?” The crowd did sing, a continuous choir of voices contributing their yeah-yeah-yeahs. If there’s one song that’s more life-affirming than “Thunder,” it has to be “Young Hearts Spark Fire,” a rare song that’s so fucking good that it has the power to turn anyone into a fan the instant they hear it. There are so few songs released in the past decade with this seductive ability. “All My Friends” is one. “Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels).” “Dancing On My Own.” “The Battle of Hampton Roads.” That’s it.
Maybe “Midnight City.”
YOUNG! HEARTS! SPARK! FIRE! ALL NIGHT! OH YEAH! OH YEAH! Only good times were had at the Hotel this evening. Yes, food may be spoiling in our refrigerators along with a billion more first world problems, but Japandroids reassured fans about how fantastic life can be in the wondrous moments between man-made crises. Despite his warning about not feeling nostalgic as the tours winds down, “Young Hearts Spark Fire” oozes nostalgia. The song’s shift from focusing on the really-real fear of death instead of farfetched fantasies like sunshine girls hits pretty close for the duo—pushing 30 and they’ve considered ending the band on multiple occasions—as well as their fans, who no doubt must notice how the world gets a little more twisted every day. At this show, such rotten fears are removed. Look to the title of the record—this was indeed a celebration through rock music. I advise you to go see Japandroids live as soon as you can. You owe it to yourself.
- Cadence Weapon