It’s hard to describe in detail Japandroids’ show at Chicago’s Lincoln Hall because nuance wasn’t really the point. The show was more a series of sensations: the smell of sweat, the feel of an elbow in your ribs, the rise in your chest when frontman Brian King tore through a meaty guitar riff. Touring in support of their recent Celebration Rock, Japandroids came to town to burn shit down, and they left little room (or reason) for argument in their wake.
Opener Cadence Weapon warmed the crowd successfully with his hyper-accessible, well-spat brand of rap, not to mention jump-starting the Canadian love for the night (“Go Oilers!”). Doffing his cap between numbers, the artist also known as Rollie Pemberton was almost shockingly articulate. To wit, he’s the first rapper (and one of the only artists, period) this reviewer has ever heard who is consistently, completely understandable not only during his banter but also during his set.
The sold-out house surged forward for Japandroids, and the usual tittering came to a boil when folks realized that the guys doing the soundcheck were actually King and David Prowse themselves. “Sounds like everything’s working okay—which is pretty good, for us!” King opined cheerfully. They opened the set with an extended-intro version of “The Boys Are Leaving Town”, which appropriately is also the opener of their debut record, Post-Nothing.
If you think you like Japandroids after hearing Celebration Rock, then you absolutely have to catch them live. To see them play in person is to have a new understanding of the phrase “punk rock.” It’s not about technicalities, careful chord progressions, thoughtful interludes. It’s about playing fucking loud and fucking long, and Japandroids have that mastered. Before starting a balls-out version of “Younger Us”, King remarked to the relatively placid crowd that they’d have to work harder to get us going: “You gotta work for a living—so do fucking we!” Everything was harder, faster, bigger live, the guitar grungy and six miles deep, the drums so forceful it sounded as if Prowse was beating on solid wood. By midway through, they announced that there’d be no encore; rather than the false stop, they’d just keep on “until we burn out.”
King bantered on between every song, professing the band’s deep and abiding love for Chicago, explaining the set order, telling a charming story about safety pinning his broken fly for the show (“more human than human!”), all with a winsome openness in his voice, before he finally confessed that he was stalling so he could tune his elderly guitar between songs. “I hit it too hard!” he said at one point, stopping and restarting “Evil’s Sway” to tune yet again, before apparently forgetting the words to one verse, which notably took nothing away from the power of the ensuing chorus (and if forgetting your own lyrics isn’t emblematic of punk’s carefree DIY ethos, then I don’t know what is).
Despite King’s concern about newer material, the crowd shouted along the lyrics to every song, old and new, and a mosh pit two-dozen strong took up sweaty residence in the puddle of beer at the middle of the room. The momentum built up and up— through “The Nights of Wine and Roses” and “Wet Hair” to crazy high point “The House That Heaven Built”, Celebration’s single and a great song for crashing into other humans if there ever was one. Fists skyward, the earnest crowd bellowed along with every chorus: “We yell like hell to the heavens!”
By now, King was playing largely with his eyes closed, a beatific smile on his face, hands throbbing across his axe, looking less like a mortal being and more like the simple conduit for pure rock music flowing straight from heaven to his guitar. He climbed on the drum kit for closer “For The Love of Ivy”, playing face to face with Prowse, their eyes locked through the strobe light and the screaming crowd and the sweat, the pumping fists, never looking away and never letting up—a good day’s work in the land of rock and roll.
Photography by Jeremy D. Larson.
The Boys Are Leaving Town
Rockers East Vancouver
The Nights of Wine and Roses
The House That Heaven Built
Young Hearts Spark Fire
For the Love of Ivy (Gun Club cover)