Concert preview: Anthem slingers Japandroids set to raise fists, spirits at the Newport

By Columbus Alive
From the June 6, 2013 edition

Celebration Rock, Vancouver duo Japandroids’ splendorous second LP, feels like all chorus all the time. It comprises eight humongous, cathartic, breathlessly aerobic tracks of perpetual youthful exuberance, the sound of the good old days transmuted into now and forever. Drums reverberate to Earth’s molten core; guitars ring out to the far reaches of the stratosphere; voices strain; forearms pump. “We yell like hell to the heavens!” is a battle cry and a modus operandi.

Calling songs like these “anthems” has become cliche, but there’s no other word for this stuff, and frankly, there’s no such thing as cliche in Japandroids’ world. Unhinged emotion is everything.

They’ve gotten exceptionally good at exhilaration. The band’s 2009 debut Post-Nothing hinted at this power. On Celebration Rock, there are no hints, just grand gestures.

“When we wrote our first record or our first EPs, we never dreamed that we would actually go on tour as much as we did,” singer-guitarist Brian King said by phone last month. “We were just a local band when we wrote those songs, so it never occurred to us that when Post-Nothing came out we were going to go on tour and play those songs hundreds of times.

“When it came time to make the second record, we were just really conscious of that. ‘We’re going to have to play these songs literally 200, 250 times in the next year and a half of our life, so we better really, really enjoy playing them together.’ When we were practicing them, it would be like, ‘What else can we do in this song where it would be more exciting to play?’ It became this competition about how to make four or five minutes of rock and roll between two people as intense as it can possibly be.”

Mission accomplished. Celebration Rock reduced jaded music critics to giddy teenagers and won Japandroids a legion of new fans. When they played Columbus in 2009, it was at the punk rock dive The Summit. Wednesday, they’ll headline 2,000-capacity Newport Music Hall. King shared his thoughts on how he and drummer David Prowse made the leap.

“First and foremost, Dave and I feel like we made a better record than our first record. That seems to be the general consensus,” King said. “On top of that, because we love playing live so much, that’s why we’re in a band in the first place. That’s the thing we love to do. We take a lot of pleasure in promoting the album, which not every band does. We do 200-250 shows every time we release a record. We’re all over the world constantly. You can’t really avoid us in a way. You’re probably going to hear about us if you’re into music because we’re coming through your city.”

With fulfilled rock star dreams comes new challenges. A Japandroids show is about conjuring communal power, and with only two players on stage, sounding bigger than life gets tougher as the rooms get larger.

“There’s a learning curve in there. You have to figure out how to give the same intense show when the room is bigger, the stage is bigger, you’re farther away from the audience,” King said. “Dave and I, we’ve kind of managed to hit the sweet spot.”

They might even be able to make it in arenas; in a sense, they already have. “The House That Heaven Built,” voted 2012’s Indie Song of the Summer by Stereogum readers, also won a contest this year to become the official entrance music for the Vancouver Canucks, replacing U2’s “Where the Streets Have No Name.” For King, who grew up outside Vancouver, it was a strange but welcome collision of worlds.

“It’s like a religion in Vancouver. There’s only ever been two riots in Vancouver’s history as a city, and both were when the Canucks lost in the Stanley Cup finals. That’s why people riot here,” King said. “My mom has season tickets to the Canucks, to give you an idea.”

King is thankful about that opportunity, even if it’s not something that ever crossed his mind growing up. And like any impassioned sports fan, he’s feeling a little superstitious about it.

“This is one of these weird ones where it’s like, it’s pretty cool, but you don’t have dreams at night of the Canucks skating out to one of your songs. It never really occurs to you,” King said. “The way that they played this season, I’m nervous that perhaps switching songs was not the right move.”