Japandroids like to refer to themselves as a touring band. They’ve said in many an interview that if they could get away with it, they’d simply tour all the time and never actually record new albums. As such, in the last year since the release of their second record Celebration Rock, they’ve been around the world and back a couple times. They’ve played shows in Chicago at least three, if not four times in the last 365 days and show no signs of slowing down. Crowds love the band, and in turn the band loves the crowds. Their albums purposely sound like their live performances, because they design them that way to achieve maximum quality control. A Japandroids show at this point has become less of a concert and more of an event. You don’t just go to a Japandroids show, you experience it, and that requires preparation. They’re such a thrilling live act, especially for a duo, that they can sell out the 1,100 capacity Metro well in advance, even though they already came through town a few months earlier. The people that love this band truly LOVE them, and their dedication shows when they turn up in force time and time again.
Before getting to the intense and dynamic show that Japandroids put on this hot summer night in mid-June, I want to turn the attention to the band that opened the show, Crocodiles. If you’ve never heard a Crocodiles song before, you’re missing out on one of the great lo-fi, garage rock revivalist bands of this current era. That’s intended to be a compliment, however this band hasn’t exactly won the affection of a lot of critics as they draw unfavorable comparisons to The Jesus and Mary Chain and Echo & the Bunnymen. The basic reaction from many seems to be that they’re a one trick pony who have found their sound and plan to stick with it, each new album providing slight variations on the same melodies. It’s not hard to agree with that sentiment, however the real truth is that this band has been refining and focusing their talents with each new album on a quest to be the best at what they do. Their situation (and sound, actually) remind me a lot of Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, another band that’s been critically misunderstood over the years, but who have managed to establish a strong, loyal fan base anyways. We can’t help what attracts us to a particular sound, even when we know plenty of others will disagree with us. While I’ve heard their first three albums as well as their fourth coming out in August and can definitely verify that they keep getting better on record, what I can’t tell you is if the same thing is true for their live shows. This was my first time seeing Crocodiles perform live, and in that regard I can proclaim it a rousing success. The band sounds absolutely great, not only accurately recreating the sound of their records, but doing so with additional energy and aplomb. The four guys on stage appeared to be having a good time, and with a set that featured old favorites and a couple of intense new ones, the crowd seemed to soak in that same vibe. While most were undoubtedly there to see Japandroids, there were some that already knew what Crocodiles was capable of and wanted to make sure they were present for that set as well. Those such as myself who had never seen them before but had heard good things were pleasantly surprised at how accurate the rumors truly were. These guys remain a band to keep an eye on, with the thought that maybe sometime soon they’ll be able to sell out a venue like Metro all by themselves.
The first thing I realized when watching Japandroids launch into their song “Adrenaline Nightshift” at the start of their set was that this would mark the very first time I’ve ever seen the band perform a full set. I’d seen them three times prior to this, but each took place at a music festival or radio session, meaning they had limited time and could essentially only play half-sets. Granted, those 45-minute half-sets were really damn good, but suddenly now that they’ve got 90+ minutes to do whatever they’d like the focus automatically turns away from the immediate new album concerns and instead towards the breadth of their seemingly small catalogue. But despite the fact that they’ve only got two full lengths to their names, they made sure to give each one its due while also tossing in non-album cuts and covers to keep it spicy. So while there was “Heart Sweats” and “Wet Hair” off the Post-Nothing record (those song titles also describe how the band and crowd would feel by the end), there was the great inclusion of “Art Czars” and the brief reference back to “Press Corps” off the band’s little-known 2007 EP All Lies which also later appeared on the Japandroids compilation No Singles. So there was quite a bit of diversity in the set list, with the requisite Celebration Rock cuts like “The Nights of Wine and Roses” and “The House That Heaven Built” fitting right in next to “Rockers East Vancouver” and such.
As great as it is to see a crowd sing and sometimes shout along with the band, the set list itself didn’t matter nearly as much as the band’s blitzkrieg approach in their live shows. See, the duo of Brian King and David Prowse make a whole lot of noise and perform with a whole lot of force to the point where you refuse to believe that they didn’t leave everything out there on the stage that night. No wonder they love performing so much, because the crowds soak it up like what they’re doing is magic. In many ways it is, because so few bands play with such intensity and vigor. Well, maybe passion is the right word to use. How anyone can get excited about performing almost the same set of songs night after night is a mystery to me, but in the end it probably has more to do with the fans than anything else. They want to make sure that when you walk away from their show, you’re going to have a lasting memory of it etched into your brain. Hopefully all the moshing and other intense movements the crowd was doing for most of the show didn’t give anyone brain damage (though if you ask me, if you’re in a mosh pit your brain might already be damaged). Normally those sorts of things are frowned upon at shows, but as King himself yelled at the start of the set, “Tonight there are no rules!” There were even a couple of people that climbed over the barricade and took stage dives, because I’m sure the band is used to it by now. Overall it wound up being a crazy yet incredible evening of live music, and one I certainly won’t soon forget. If you have the chance to see either Japandroids or Crocodiles perform live, jump at the opportunity, for the very reasons I just described.