Vancouver’s Japandroids swung into London’s Heaven venue on Friday (26 October) and the chances are if you were there, you’re still wringing the sweat out of your clothes. Inside, their euphoric garage punk – imagine ‘Let It Be’-era Replacements honey-dripped in fuzz and you’re basically there – thundered out to the delight of some 400+ bouncing fans. Frontman Brian King’s vocals were screamed back at him till voices were husky and lungs sore. Near-naked men flung themselves violently from the stage into the crowd. A man lost his shoes while everyone else lost their shit.
But that was inside. The world outside seems disappointingly nonplussed by the Canadian pair, whose second album ‘Celebration Rock’ was released earlier this year to a handful of indifferent reviews from the British press. A hit among US blogs it may be but over here, even ticket touts apparently can’t bring themselves to get excited for the duo, not enough to bother learning their name properly in any case: “Tickets for the Japan Androids, buy or sell,” a scalper murmurs in my direction as I walk towards the venue earlier in the evening.
Is this endemic of something? The way Japandroids have simmered under the radar this year on these shores despite the excellence of ‘Celebration Rock’ and repeated tours drags up some familiar questions about the state of guitar bands. The argument over whether or not rock music is dead has been done to death but it’s hard to deny that 2012 has been a melancholic experience for fans of the sort of gruff guitars, fist-pumping moments and snarling percussion that the Canadian pair do so well. Where 10 years ago the suspicion is ‘Celebration Rock’ and indeed other 2012 alt-rock albums (Wichita punks Cloud Nothings’ ‘Attack On Memory’ and DIIV’s devastatingly good ‘Oshin’, for example) would have had a wider impact, the year’s alternative landscape has been dominated again by indie R&B crossover (Frank Ocean, Jessie Ware) and the adventuring folk of acts like Alt-J and Ben Howard, The Black Keys’ platinum-selling ‘El Camino’ a notable exception.
Regardless, if Japandroids are the most overlooked band of 2012 it only adds to their charm, chiming happily with the message of their lyrics. King and drummer David Prowse paint themselves in their songs as outsiders, underdogs, clinging onto a youth they can feel slipping from their grip. “Give me that night you were already in bed/ Said ‘fuck it’, got up to drink with me instead,” King roars amid the power-chord punch of ‘Younger Us’, his vocals stained with nostalgia. The passionate response tonight suggests they’re not the only ones who feel that way.
You might not see them on many end of year lists, but give ‘Celebration Rock’ a listen below and tell us it’s not one of 2012’s most invigorating and underrated listens…
Photos: Debbie Ball