Japandroids, the Casbah (San Diego), 6/16/12


After boldly taking on the man known as Dan Bejar a few weeks ago, Eric returns with a new post on Japandroids. Considering he saw them about three weeks ago, I’m a little late in getting this post up, but I think the sentiment remains.

Is it actually possible to have too much Japandroids in a matter of two weeks? At the risk of redundancy (sorry I’m not sorry) between this post and Kevin’s two weeks ago, I’m going to talk about the Vancouver noisemakers once again because I think it bears an echo. I took a trip with my girlfriend to San Diego last week, and now that I’m beginning to feel rested from my trip (“I need a vacaaaation from my vacaaaation, you guys” haha LOLOL), I can finally start appreciating the J-Droids show I saw at The Casbah in San Diego last Saturday night.

The show somehow wasn’t sold out until a few days beforehand, which was surprising, and we weren’t sure we were going to go until right about the sell-out date. It was a good half-hour from the surf shack hotel in Encinitas we were staying at that night, unaware that they’d be in town when we booked it. Once I really thought about it, and especially after I convinced my friend and his girlfriend who live in San Diego to go, I realized I had made the right decision and that it’d be worth a drive twice that amount.

Me, my girlfriend, and our San Diegan music festival soul brother and sister met up right after the opener, with them having no knowledge of the band whatsoever. The couple has a mainly hip-hop and DJ-focused gigantic musical attention span that, although I’m not nearly as well versed in those areas, lends plenty of overlap within the Venn Diagram of musical taste for us to completely trust each other’s judgment when recommending something. Long story short, I randomly met them at a bar in Nashville the day before Bonnaroo, and they asked us if we wanted to camp with them. I was with a work buddy at my first big-boy music festival, and I figured why not. It was a fantastic decision – we hung out with them the entire festival and had a great time throughout, and although we hadn’t kept in touch as well as we would have liked to in the few years since, it’s an easy friendship to pick up where you left off.

I share these details in the context of a friendship (and I’m sure I’ll do it more than a little) because it’s such a core part of how I find out about music that I eventually discover myself and love. I’ve developed an “onward and upward” mentality when it comes to seeking out music over the years, scanning through blogs and listening to online radio, but when I think about it, each new artist I come to know is basically a branch of a tree that a friend pointed out to me. Almost everyone that finds him or herself in this position can think of a friend, a boyfriend or girlfriend, or even a parent to whom a musical palette can be largely attributed.

Japandroids: The House That Heaven Built:

In addition to recorded music, friends also constitute a huge part of how I experience a live show. A douche-cog in the concert-wheel can turn epic might-have-been shows into ones you keep to yourself even when friends are engaging in a bit of concert reminiscin’. A generally like-minded, positive person can take an average one and make it one you’ll remember for the rest of your life and never stop shutting up about to anyone who’ll listen.

That said, I don’t think I’d bring just anyone to a Japandroids show who’d never heard one guitar riff, one “Oh-oh-OH-OH” chorus/sing-along/hook, or one lyric about getting messed up with your bros or french-kissing some French girls. Considering what I’d already seen of them, and the company I found myself in, I was confident we were all in for a treat. This being my third Japandroids show, and the second being clearly more polished and tighter than the first, this was exciting for me. I saw them the first time play as an opener for The Walkmen at the good ol’ Clubhouse a few years back, then again at the Polyvinyl showcase at the 2011 Pygmalion Festival (in Champaign, Ill., where I went to school), I felt I was at least decently qualified to critique.

The opener for the show was Edmonton rapper (and former poet laureate) Cadence Weapon, himself also a Polaris long-list nominee. He’s been covered in this space before, so I won’t say too much other than he seems poised for a larger-scale breakout as well. Full of positive energy, fun, and apparently not phased by a (at least for the first few songs) mostly frozen, mostly quiet, and mostly apparently unaccustomed to hip-hop show crowd full of white people, his stage presence became more infectious throughout the show, especially once Japandroids one-man rhythm section David Prowse joined in. Standing stage right, wearing a Hot Snakes T-shirt, 10 or so feet away from the main stage, right next toooo… this moi, Prowse was shouting out lyrics and getting just generally fired up.

Me being the total awkward dork about these things as I am, when Cadence Weapon threw a shout-out in the way of Mr. Prowse, foreshadowing the general loudness of the headliner we were about to hear, I turned over to him and asked through a cupped hand:
“You guys wouldn’t do that, would you?”
“Wait, this isn’t going to be LOUUUD is it?” (mocking fake outrage)
“Oh, hehe. You see all those amps? This ain’t gonna be no acoustic show. At least I hope not.”
“Oh, yeah. Hehe – right.”
Guh. As much as I never have the ability to say something cool or funny in those situations, even though I probably shouldn’t be, I’m generally glad I keep making myself anyway. In a place like The Casbah, which is Rhythm Room size or slightly smaller, it’s pretty possible to do that before a show, which I don’t think will be the case with this band for long. A major theme of Celebration Rock is growing up and realizing where you’ve already been, and either life is imitating art or vice-versa, but they’s all growns up now, both in terms of their live show and their status as a band.

It’s evident from watching clips like the insane collaboration with Captain Kirk from the Roots and gauging the heaps of praise that the band has received lately, I gather the ‘Droids are picking up a significant amount of steam right now, and I’m super happy about it.

Yeah, I’ll nerdily and snobbily admit it can be annoying to me when my special little snowflakes become everyone else’s special little snowflakes, but I couldn’t be more proud. For me, this was watching that high draft pick or prospect you’ve followed since early on (maybe not since high school, but let’s say later in college for the sake of comparison) blossom into a first time all-star with a promising career ahead.

Everyone says the same thing the first time they see Japandroids, and I could see it right away on the faces of my two newly and instantly converted friends’ faces almost right away. How can two dudes make ALL THAT SOUND? Once their show opener/album opener “The Nights of Wine And Roses” cranked up, I could feel a collective of “awww yeah” hit them and the rest of the crowd. And they didn’t let up the entire show. Sweaty, bleeding-heart jams cranked out, with only breaks for swiggin’ a couple shots and some witty banter in between.

Confident, talented, and intense on the one hand, yet funny, friendly, and approachable on the other, Japandroids are easy for me to like – a band I’d certainly want to hang out with in real life. There’s always going to be a certain rough-around-the-edges quality of Japandroids’ vocals that people may or may not like (I’ve met a few who are in the “not” category), but it’s hard to dispute how tight and in-sync they are live now. Again, this has been a progression. The first time I saw them, they were much more raw. The second time, less so. Now, it clicks. They have made, as Bill Simmons would say, “The Leap.”

So many cheesy, cliched statement come to mind in summing that show up, so I’ll just go ahead and mention them. They ROCKED that tiny place, like AC/DC rocked it, you guys. Faces. Melted. Crowds were surfed. People were bowled over, literally and figuratively. They played dang near every song in their catalog. They had people clapping, cheering and shouting from beginning to end. They survived a complete technical difficulty after getting through a third of it without missing a beat.

From reading my last two posts about Destroyer and Japandroids shows, I’d be perfectly understanding if you think I only like bands on independent labels and who are from Vancouver, and that I think every show is the cat’s PJs. Neither is true, I assure you, but daaaaang, these were a couple fun, energizing shows… from two Vancouverian indie-rock bands.

I’m so glad I got to experience this show with three great music partners who could appreciate it. We and everyone else in the room felt it. This was special. This was epic. This was a right-place-right-time moment to watch a band grow up, and I’m probably not going to shut up about it anytime soon.

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