Last night I experienced a unique sensation. The skin on my nose, cheeks and temples felt chaffed and raw. Weird, certainly. There was an element of exhilaration too. Why? Had my skin began to peel off like some Mission Impossible reveal? Did I accidentally stand too close to the flame of a hot air balloon? A disagreement with a belt sander? An anti-ageing exfoliate gone wrong?
Surprisingly not. I saw Japandroids live in concert.
Japandroids have been one of my bucket list bands for some time. I guess on a technicality I saw them already, but it was a short (albeit blistering) set at the sunny (also blistering) 2013 Laneways concert back in Auckland. Derailed by technical difficulties, it was a bit of a shitshow. They may be a two piece who can output a Capital Fuckton of noise, but they were hardpressed to do so with their sound continually cutting out. I took a mulligan on that and decided I still hadn’t really experienced the band in all its glory. So when tickets came up for their Danforth Music Hall gig came up, I pounced on ’em (still only managing one of the last few balcony seats).
One of the first times in ages I’d been at a gig without a dorky reviewer’s notebook, I was keen to get sweaty in the mosh pit. Being saddled with a balcony seat, I was a little bummed. I arrived ten minutes before they were to go on and took my chances with a security guard. He asked about my accent and jokingly asked whether I’d come all the way to see them. He let me through on the condition that I didn’t cause any trouble. “Scout’s honour!” I replied jauntily. I strolled into the hall, through the crowds, directly to the front. Canadian audiences being what they were, I didn’t even need to push. I flashed back to meeting a Canadian gal at a gig circa 2007. She’d mentioned how Canadian audiences had this unspoken rule to be excellent to everyone around them, like Bill & Ted. She said people didn’t intentionally push and there was an effort to make room if possible. Being idealistic, my eyes lit up and I stored the notion straight in my heart. As I weaved through the crowd without pushing at all, I smiled through time at her astute observation.
They kicked off with “Near to the Wild Heart of Life”, a single I’m as unenthused about as I am of the identically named album. Look, it’s fine. It’s rock music, but lacking Japandroids’ usual grit and bite. The album feels too clean. Fewer grunty howls in favour of doo-wop choruses. The lyrics sound trite and bordering on cliché. It’s not terrible by any means, but aggressively mediocre from a band who’re usually awesomely aggressive. Still, live it was a ton of fun. I’ve long found it difficult to truly feel the same way about mediocre tracks when they’re played live. Being in the presence of such raw energy breaks down those barriers nicely. Of course, they won’t be transcendent like those songs you fucking love, but they’re not awful, is all I’m saying. Even in these new tracks, I had a blast. 360 degrees of people singing, we were all being whipped around in a sweaty frenzy of joy. Whenever riffs from Celebration Rock or Post Nothing launched, I lost my shit. So, continually. The band were giving their all and having a riot of a time. The crowd repeatedly climbed onstage to crowd surf and the band didn’t make a move to stop them. Being front and centre, by the end of the concert my shoulders ached from all the overhead lifting.
In times of low energy, it’s always amazing how invigorating live music can be. I’ve been so disinterested in going out lately, but after finally seeing Japandroids do a solid set, I’m all too keen to get out and see as much as I can.
Oh, and the raw face thing? I’d sweat so much and so often that wiping it off was rubbing against the skin underneath. So in effect I’d become my own sander.