Smile Politely

Japandroids: a lesson in reciprocity

Reading the work of my fellow music writers here at Smile Politely, I am reminded of how little I really know about music. I was a DJ, I’ve been going to shows since I was fourteen, and I’ve read more music blogs than I can remember, yet I know far less about the actual field than most of the music lovers writing online. Music is at its core a visceral experience for me. I freeze when asked to come up with genre labels. I cringe at my attempts at band comparisons. I avoid music history conversations at all cost. This makes me, well, an emotional writer. Reactive, impulsive, subjective as hell and prone to the push and pull of the people who are listening with me.

Which is why this past Wednesday’s show at the High Dive was just slightly less than I wanted. With two perfectly paired powerhouses of grit and energy coming to Champaign, I wanted sweat, I wanted motion, I wanted chaotic enthusiasm! What I got was a fantastic show, with an appreciative, if slightly restrained crowd.

The show kicked off with Swedish rockers Love is All playing a brief, vivacious set. Love is All certainly felt like the warm-up, with the band giving it their all while a subdued crowd stood, politely attentive. Their fuzzy, unrestrained sound failed to inspire the crowd into little more than respectful clapping and one persistant proclamation of love from a fan. Nonetheless, the band charged ahead through much of their new album, Two Thousand and Ten Injuries, along with a few of my personal favorites from their 2005 release, Nine Times That Same Song. While enjoyable, Love is All’s set was definitely the punk-lite appetizer, and we were all hungry for the richness of the main course.

As expected, the moment Japandroids took the stage the room livened. The Vancouver duo is immediately endearing, with a boyish enthusiasm that had me grinning, anticipating the first chords. And when the music began — jubilantly, ferociously — I looked around and thought “Why the hell is no one dancing?”

Guitarist Brian King and drummer David Prouse began explosively, hurling themselves into their songs. They played nearly all of their sole full-length, Post-Nothing, with “The Boys are Leaving Town”, “Wet Hair”, and “Heart Sweats” as standouts. Near the end of the show we were treated to the cover from Japandroid’s first ever 7″: the boys’ take on 80s punk band Big Black’s “Racer X”, which was packed with aggressive drumming and spirited guitar.

Japandroids feel like the grown-up equivalent of the emo-punk bands I used to love as a teenager. They’re raw, uncomplicated, unpretentious, and yet they create an unbelievable amount of sound and energy for just a drum kit and an electric guitar. They’re the kind of band that would fit just as well in your tiny, cement-walled, bare-bulbed basement as they do onstage, as they laugh off their mistakes and follow the whims of the music. King gleefully admitted to “rocking [him]self out of tune” halfway through a song, and led Prouse into an extended version of “Young Hearts Spark Fire” when the song was begging for more. Yet the crowd never really seemed to get there, never matching the boundless energy of Japandroids or the crazed enthusiam of the crowd at their last show I saw, in Chicago last summer. The expansive songs of Post-Nothing combined with the infectious energy of King and Prouse should have had us all moving around as ferociously as a few light souls were, but instead I had to content myself with dancing on my own.

I’m confident Japandroids will be back, perhaps after they decide to settle down and work on their next full album, and I’m sure they’ll continue with energy unabated. Next time we’ll just have to keep up our end of the bargain.

photos courtesy of Matt Schroyer (@matthew_ryan on Twitter)

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