Though their live shows are much lauded, for some reason Japanther’s studio output has failed to gain the same sort of praise. Even a cursory listen to last year’s Beets, Limes, and Rice is enough to provide the same sort of energy that Ian Vanek and Matt Reilly bring to their live sets. That being said, their telephone toting live show is something special to behold, so we caught them at The Studio at Webster Hall on Tuesday, only their second show back in New York after country spanning treks playing with Boys Who Say No and Screaming Females.
Brooklyn’s own EULA opened the night, after recent Other Music signees Ex Cops dropped off the bill. Their brand of Sleater-Kinney inflected noise-punk fired up the small bar beneath Manhattan’s famed venue. It’s a shame that the majority of the crowd had failed to show up for their admittedly early set because their bass driven punk might’ve set them into the same frenzy that later sets did.
On a bill of punk bands Wild Yaks might initially seem out of place, but the unbridled energy with which they went about their brand of dynamic folk inflected rock placed them well within the confines of the lineup. The togetherness that the band displays with their four part unison vocals belies the fact that they’ve only in the last year reformed after a brief breakup in the summer of 2010. Some bands just can’t stay broken up, and despite the fact that this reformation hasn’t brought Wild Yaks much more acclaim than their previous run, the infectiousness of their live presence cannot be denied. They’re having such a good time that you can’t help but be drawn into it.
Night Manager took to the stage next composed of Brooklyn scene luminaries Caitlin Seager and David Tassy. In lesser shows in Brooklyn venues, the crowd seems so hip that it’s impossible to determine who’s in a band and who’s there to watch. Night Manager is living proof of this fact, as I’ve spotted Tassy’s distinctive afro at many a Williamsburg show, and never realized his proper place in the scene. Despite their sub-Best Coast beach pop, the crowd seemed to enjoy this last opening set and indeed the more the band settled in, the more their set seemed to shine. Tassy and Tim Angiolillo’s flangey guitar lines worked to distinguish their sound from the legions of similar travelers and Seager is undeniably a magnetic presence as a lead singer. Whatever your opinion on her voice, there’s no denying that she has the showman-like aspects of live performance down pat.
And then Japanther. These fellow Brooklynites took to the stage and nearly immediately blew the entire corral of openers out of the water. Despite being composed entirely of bass and drums, as well as their characteristic keyboard sounds (playing that night from some sort of prerecorded setup), their minimalist take on punk rock still sounded much larger than the efforts of any of the acts that preceded them. Aside from the early set hiccups brought on by the disruptive presence of a drunken teenager who seemed bent on destroying their entire stage setup, to which Vanek (rightly) took violent offense, their set was one of well practiced celebratory punk rock joy. Reilly’s fuzzy bass lines and Vanek’s furious drum parts sent the crowd into some glorious, apocalyptic rumbling mess as the band played cuts from each of their significant works.
Whether it was “Come Back Home”, the closing track from Beets, Limes and Rice or “One Hundred Dollars” and the Brooklyn rallying cry “Challenge” from 2007’s Skuffed Up My Huffy Vanek and Reilly showed an enthusiasm atypical for a band that’s been around as long as they have without managing much of a significant studio acclaim. If Tuesday’s set proved anything, and in particular the singalong that closed out “The Dirge”–and the set as a whole–it’s that a lot of people care about Japanther, critical reputation aside. And all this care is entirely deserved.