Japandroids go all-out at Rock & Roll Hotel

July 1, 2012

Imagine the scene in a coming-of-age teen movie in which the main characters experience their first rock-and-roll catharsis in a packed nightclub. The kids are euphoric — high-fiving, fist-pumping, shouting along, dripping in sweat. The band is similarly drenched, the frontman earnestly singing in well-worn cliches about tonight being the most important night of your life. The scene is a montage; it lasts about 90 seconds, accounting for only the most anthemic portion of the song.

Now imagine those 90 seconds repeated for almost 90 minutes, and that’s a fair approximation of Japandroids’ sold-out Saturday night show at the Rock & Roll Hotel. Can catharsis be sustained for that long? Japandroids, the Vancouver guitar-drums duo whose album “Celebration Rock” is one of the most celebrated rock albums of the year, made a game effort. But with every next song doubling as a shout to the heavens, complete with titles (“Fire’s Highway,” “Adrenaline Nightshift”), it started to feel less galvanizing and more gimmicky.


The album cover for Celebration Rock by Japandroids. (Japandroids)

How else can you describe a set in which a full half of the songs featured a chorus that was some variation on “WOAH-OH!”? When Brian King sang actual words, they offered about as much insight. Isn’t “Don’t we have anything to live for/Well, of course we do, but until it comes true/We’re drinking” just a longer way of saying, “WOAH-OH!”? King’s lyrics cover themes that have been central to rock-and-roll for half a century — romance, youth, desire — but are light on specifics and heavy on one-liners.

Still, you won’t see many bands commit themselves as fully to their material as Japandroids did Saturday. Both King and drummer David Prowse leaned into every thundering power chord and drum fill.

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