You may have noticed this article doesn’t have a live image with it. Generally, as a rule, our live reviews feature some sort of photo of the artist performing as a stylish visual accompaniment or as a grainy “I was there” type of record-keeping. I went to last night’s Japandroids and Cadence Weapon show at the Music Hall of Williamsburg with every intention of taking some great photos. I brought my little pocket-sized camera with me. I charged the battery. I posted up early. I was ready, but I made a mistake.
Before I made this grave error, Edmonton-born rapper Cadence Weapon took the stage alongside his DJ to kick off the show with some complex but cathartic hip-hop. Sporting a red, white and blue outfit (“my Garth Brooks shirt,” he said) that he claimed was a tribute to the day’s Supreme Court ruling, which finally allows America to catch up with Canada in the health-care department, Weapon was a charming and gregarious presence, despite his often bleak subject matter and the harsh dissonance of his beats. “You get your jukebox away from me,” he screamed during the chorus of the appropriately titled “Jukebox,” off his latest LP Hope In Dirt City. After the song he casually observed, “I was screaming in the rock and roll style.”
As I was watching Weapon perform, I was thinking of the many ways Weapon is actually an ideal opener for an earnest, high-energy band like Japandroids, but then Weapon went ahead and stole my mental thunder by using all my talking points. Perhaps noting that some (close-minded) members of the crowd possibly weren’t expecting a hip-hop act as an opener for an indie rock group, Weapon said he and Japandroids had three things in common: 1. They’re both Candian. 2. They’re both duos (Cadence + DJ). 3. They both like to scream. Also, he played a song with a beat by fellow Canadian artist Grimes, so he was definitely working hard to get the attention of a crowd that was still filling in and probably focused on slamming drinks instead of deciphering clever lyrics. But for those close to the stage, Weapon was a personable, albiet sweaty, joy to behold.
With the bright red microphone and hulking Marshall stacks, the Japandroids stage set-up suggested that the group knows a thing or two about manipulating rock and roll iconography. The duo’s latest album, Celebration Rock, is eight songs of earnest, over-idealized youth rock that takes already broad concepts like nostalgia, young love, regret, and celebration (duh!) and carves them into giant, almost mythological elements: heaven and hell, good and evil. It’s a record that’s oddly suited for both backyard barbecue’s and sobbing into your own beer at 4:00 a.m. after all your friends are gone. Taking the stage shorty after 10, the pair of guitarist Brian King and drummer David Prowse were obviously ready to annihilate a crowd full of people seriously saying things like, “At least you can tell your grandkids you saw Japandroids,” and, “YEAH! CELEBRATION ROCK!”
Kicking off with “The Boys Are Leaving Town” off their debut record Post-Nothing, the duo eased the crowd into their anthemic utopia of rock evangelism. Backlit, his sleeves high on his arms, and with air blowing his hair like it was coming from a wind machine, King resembled a preciously polite take on “Dancing In The Dark” era Bruce Springsteen, if you squinted a bit. Like fellow punk/bar-rock myth-maker Craig Finn, King was quick with anecdotes and stray comments, eager to contextualize every song and encourage audience participation. “Fire’s Highway” came with a story about playing the song on Jimmy Fallon and having to cut 45 seconds. “The Nights Of Wine And Roses” was accompanied by an introductory plea to listen to the Dream Syndicate. “Evil’s Sway” inspired a lengthy soliloquy about how it’s the only Japandroids song “with a fucking drum solo” and King was quick to explain to potential bloggers in the audience that yes, he knows the song might resemble a certain Tom Petty tune (hint: it’s the one that shares a name with a line of dolls). Before playing the epic “Crazy/Forever” King even said he knows that he talks too much, but that it’s a sign of a good show.
He was right. It was a good show: loud, perfectly paced, triumphant, physical. So physical, in fact, that during the Celebration Rock’s stand-out track “Younger Us,” I was inspired to do a little light moshing, you know, for research purposes. A Japandroids mosh-pit is very similar to a Hold Steady or Titus Andronicus one, meaning that it’s more of a mush-pit, a non-violent collection of people gently knocking in to each other with more hugging than elbowing. But, apparently it was still too much for me because after 10 seconds I realized that my small camera fell from my pocket onto the sticky, foot-filled floor. I did that sad “take out my cell-phone and try to find my camera in the mosh-pit” thing for the rest of the song, but I had no luck.
Trying to find something in a mosh-pit, even a relatively gentle one, is like trying to find a missing person: you have a brief window of time after the kidnapping where you mind find the person, but after that brief interval (30 seconds at a show) it’s pretty much hopeless. At least when I lost my glasses at a Fucked Up concert last year I found the mangled remains. “Give me that naked new skin rush,” sang King as I pathetically searched for my camera, thinking, “I’ll settle for give me that camera back”. I never found it. Lesson learned: you can recapture your youth, but you can’t recapture your camera after it flies out of your pocket in a mosh pit.