On Wednesday night, right before launching into “Art Czars,” a little-appreciated single released between Post-Nothing and Celebration Rock, Brian King paused to give the crowd a bit of instruction.
“If you don’t know this one…it’s simple as fuck. You’ll know after about 30 seconds.”
The roiling mass on the floor of New York’s Webster Hall responded in kind. Fists raised and vocal cords sufficiently shredded from half a set’s worth of sing-a-longs, the sixteen year olds (and they were sixteen, Webster Hall’s age restrictions dictated as much) in the pit caught on quickly and joined in shouting platitudes about punk rock and rebelling and generally telling those men in suits that they know just where to shove the dirty money they’re trying to hand us.
Such is the appeal of the Vancouver duo Japandroids, who have understandably seen a massive rise to fame on the back of their 2012 emo-punk treatise Celebration Rock. That album, like their previous effort, celebrated the power of minuscule high school emotions that nag at you the rest of your life. It’s the Andrew WK party positive mantra of “Younger Us”’s “…you said ‘fuck it’ got up to drink with me instead” refrain and the wistful adolescent poetry of “Continuous Thunder” that makes the band a magnet for the worship of the similarly adolescent masses and their disillusioned twenty-something comrades redolent in those similarly nostalgic emotions. The lyrics champion a knowledge that life already sucks at an age far too young and the music seeks to repel those same feelings. They’re guitar trashing, needle in the red road songs built to be listened to as you drum along on the dashboard, 19, and your friends wail along in the backseat each and every one of them a little too loaded to drive. I mean, if you’re in the age group, it’s music that’s going to be a fucking celebration, there’s no doubt about that.
So we loop back now to Brian King’s admonition and backhanded acknowledgement of the worshipful attitude with which the kids gathered at his feet hold these songs. As much as Japandroids wrote these songs, these songs belong to those kids in the pit. These are big, dumb rock songs built to be shouted along, lowest common denominator emotions built to be viscerally experienced, not processed. They simply don’t stand up upon intense analysis. Even the pinnacle of Brian King’s lyrics, like the lines that make up the core of “Young Heart Spark Fire,” read like adolescent poetry at their absolute best. But there lies the conundrum of a Japandroids live show. Stand back and watch and you’re left to ponder the stupidity of the big, dumb, caps-lock RAWK show that’s unfolding before you with its Pete Townshend guitar jumps and seizure inducing light show (I’m serious about that one, it was quite difficult at times to look at the stage). But having been in the muck and the mire before, sliding around in the mudpit that formed at the foot of the stage at their Pitchfork Festival set I can tell you, you need to turn your mind off. No one ever enjoyed an REO Speedwagon concert by going there and trying to intellectually engage with “Roll With The Changes,” and you have to assume the same here. Go to a Japandroids show, fall down in the pit, let a bunch of sweaty strangers pick you up, crowdsurf, hit your head on the ceiling, be a teenager. Be a teenager.
Now that last bit brings up a question that’s not so central to their performance at Webster Hall a week ago. I mean, damn, Brian King destroyed the place by beaming in otherworldly riffs through a massive stack of amplifiers and David Prowse’s little drum fills brought a complexity uncommon to their two-man punk setup. They put on a damn good show if you’re willing to let yourself be a kid, but the kids often can’t get in. It’s been explored elsewhere by much smarter people than me, but it seems odd if youth and the experience therein is so central to understanding what the anthems that Japandroids write mean, why are they still playing shows in these corporate rock clubs that deny entry to those that might most heavily benefit from being able to take in these songs? Webster Hall’s unusually 16+ setup was admirable in its own way, but it seeks to patch a problem rather than fix it wholesale. This is music that kids need to shout along to, this is music that we all need to shout along to, together, no kids kept out, no older arms folded in the back row. It’d be nice if Japandroids could still afford to play basement shows and punk spaces, but good on them for being relatable enough transcend that scene to shows that pay them lots of money. It’d just be nice for them not to forget the little people who surely want to be able to raise their voice too. After all, their music is “simple as fuck” and who doesn’t want a part of that.