When it was revealed that Japandroids’ return to New York City after three years away would occur at Brooklyn’s Knitting Factory, a collective, curious “huh” went up from fans. The choice of venue was surprising considering the last time the Canadian rockers played this town it was at the 550 capacity Music Hall of Williamsburg (or the 80,000 capacity Governors Ball, if you want to get technical about it). Even with the gap in album releases and touring, surely they hadn’t fallen out of favor to the point of being relegated to a 200-ish capacity space (not that there’s anything wrong with KF, mind you).
But after the first of their two performances at the venue last night, it was clear they could have sold out MHoW just as fast. There seems to be a trend of artists who’ve been away for a bit coming back to play venues beneath their actual drawing capabilities — even Lady Gaga did it with her dive bar tour. While it can be disappointing for fans who don’t get in, such a move is a true treat for those who manage to snag tickets. As was the case with Japandroids’ Friday evening performance, the welcomed double-edged sword is that you might never want to see them in a larger venue again.
After a solid, heavy opening set from fellow Canucks, Greys, drummer David Prowse and guitarist Brian King came out to deliver a joyous and thunderous performance. King’s hair was a sweaty tangle before he even played a note, addressing the crowd by saying, “This first song is a warm-up song, something to get the blood flowing.” The 21-plus audience barely needed the coaxing, as they simply lost their shit for opener “Adrenaline Nightshift”.
In fact, this was probably one of the best 21-and-over crowds you could hope to see at a NYC concert. King commented on it himself, noting after “Fire’s Highway” that bands tend to have subpar experiences with audiences here, but that he was loving the response tonight. Attendees were moshing and singing and pushing in ways you’d typically expect at all-ages gigs, but with a rare level of maturity and care. They watched out for one another, were careful not to push too hard out of the bounds of the pit, and were amazingly respectful for a group of sweaty, thrashing concertgoers. It was all perhaps best summed up by the crowd-surfing Pop-Tart who smoothly sailed above the audience and was brought down gently once “Evil’s Sway” had ended.
Still, you only get an A+ audience from an A+ show, and Japandroids were certainly feeding off the crowd and visa versa. Prowse was all smiles behind his kit, especially during “The Nights of Wine and Roses” and “Young Hearts Spark Fire”, songs which sent the crowd into pure frenzies. Of course, part of the purpose of these gigs was to show off new material, and you certainly could feel the difference when the fresh stuff played. A few may have clapped and danced to songs like “No Known Drink or Drug” and “Midnight to Morning”, but there was a clear difference in energy.
While the songs don’t feature the plentiful “woah!” or “oh!” sing-alongs as often as many of the duo’s older hits do, there’s every reason to believe they’ll find their live life once fans become more familiar with them. “Near to the Wild Heart of Life” is especially primed to connect with longtime listeners with its triumphant chorus, and once fans get an earful of “Arc of Bar”‘s epic roll, they’ll be begging for it live. “You guys may not be ready for that,” King said after the latter, borrowing a line from Marty McFly. “But your kids are gonna love it.”
And they very likely are. Near to the Wild Hear of Life sounds like it’s going to be fairly different from Japandroids’ past material, but in a naturally progressive way. The duo still encapsulate the energy of burned-out but defiant optimism perhaps better than any rock band operating today, and it’s all the more invigorating in a tiny, packed space with a group of unreserved, spirited fans.
No Known Drink or Drug
Midnight to Morning
Near to the Wild Heart of Life
Arc of Bar
The Nights of Wine and Roses
Young Hearts Spark Fire
The House That Heaven Built
For the Love of Ivy (The Gun Club cover)