There was a fleeting moment Thursday night — about two songs into Japandroid’s sold-out set — when I began to worry that the cavernous belly of the Independent might prove too big and distant for the band’s intimate, exuberant call-and-response rock music. We were packed to capacity and yet a very real stiffness hung in the air. I couldn’t help but think of the recent controversy-stoking New York Times article warning that tech yuppies might destroy the middle class in San Francisco. Where was the hop-and-shoulder bumping mosh pit? Are there no fucking kids left in this city?
And then Japandroids launched into “Younger Us,” a smoldering anthem for the memories of youth from their newest LP, Celebration Rock, that the kids absolutely ate up, their bobbing heads, jumping feet, pumping fists all drawn to the stage as if by youthful osmosis. The lyrics, which read, “remember that night you were already in bed / said fuck it / got up and drank with me instead” could just as easily, at that moment, be about San Francisco. Remember that time we were feeling old and stressed, said fuck it (and the NYT), and got wild instead?
And so went the night as Japandroids carried the energy through the rest of their hour-long set, playing through every track from the new album and well-selected hits from the debut. Their performance of “The House That Heaven Built” — the first single from Celebration Rock and probably the best song Japandroids have ever written — was spine-tinglingly good, King’s guitar tone a crunchy piece of perfection and the radio-worthy oh oh oh ohs of the chorus fostering the kind of audience fist-pumping sing-alongs usually reserved for your little brother’s pop-punk shows.
Nice guys don’t always finish last and Japandroids are proof enough of that. The band thanked the audience continuously between songs, even apologizing for playing a “slow song” (Brian King: “We just really want to play this song and we hope that’s ok with you guys, we promise to play some fucking rock songs after this”) and inviting the whole audience to visit Canada (King: “Don’t go to Vegas, come to East Vancouver instead, you can sleep on [drummer] Dave’s couch”).
King was chatty the whole show, selling fellow Canadian electronic hip-hop openers Cadence Weapon before their set, joking about drum solos, and asking the audience for help singing “The Nights of Wine and Roses” because it’s “the most difficult song for us to sing.”
Speaking of Cadence Weapon, if you’re not familiar with the Polaris Music Prize nominated rapper, poet laureate of Edmonton, Canada, and former Pitchfork writer (his real name is Rollie Pemberton), you should be — the guy is extra smooth with overflowing stage presence and I could actually understand his lyrics (a novelty for hip-hop shows). The beats vary from the jazz-influenced style of Madvillain to fluffy 80s-styled saxophones and decades-old synths. Like Japandroids, Pemberton enjoys yelling and ended at least two songs with a full-throated shout, setting the mood nicely for the headliners.
By show’s end, Japandroids were sporting the tired grin of an exhaustingly fun night and King couldn’t help but explain his satisfaction: “Last time we were here, we played the Hemlock and it wasn’t like this.” This time they were performing their blistering set in front of 500 people with a whole pocket of eager fist-pumping youth right up front, the VIP balcony lined with admirers, and a set list jam-packed with hits from two great albums. As the band noted, they’ve come a long way since playing the beer soaked taverns of Edmonton, Canada, but growing old doesn’t concern Japandroids. When you’re playing sold-out shows across the country, it’s time to revel in your success with some explosive celebration rock. Cue the fireworks.Tags: Cadence Weapon, Japandroids