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LIVE REPORT: Japandroids
Laurie Tuffrey , October 30th, 2012 14:05

The Canadian duo start a run of UK dates with a set at Heaven

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Photograph courtesy of Debbie Ball

It’s a fine line to walk, carving out your niche in anthemic power pop. Get it right, and you can distill emotional complexity and youthful urgency into quaking four-minute thrash-throughs; too far the other way, and you leave a trail of whining emo flotsam. Luckily for the clammy masses packed into Heaven’s sweatbox last Friday, Japandroids reside in the former camp. The Vancouver duo of singer/guitarist Brian King and drummer David Prowse played a set of rapid, tour-honed cuts, dealing in the stinging fluctuations of adolescence, but rendered with unrelenting positivity instead of black-clad whingery.

While recent album Celebration Rock was an upgrade in production stakes from their debut LP Post-Nothing, their live sound is best of all: the records are have a formidable rawness, but occasionally get muddied; on stage, they bolster their lack of numbers by placing King in front of a heaving cluster of amps, forging a bristling, ringing tone. Matched to the taut snap of Prowse’s drums, and ‘Fire’s Highway’ and ‘Evil’s Sway’ are blasted with angular, clashing energy.

Halfway through the show, King announces that while Muse may be playing at our “hockey arena” - the O2 - with a show that costs $1m a pop, Japandroids are about to deliver something Muse won’t: a drum solo (in fact, Muse probably did have a drum solo, probably accompanied by an elephant made of fireworks and Concorde being reanimated by Matt Bellamy’s trousers or some such, but nevertheless...). And Prowse duly obliges, bolting down snare raps while King jolts around the room like a straw puppet shot through with a 500 volt charge, all under a brilliant, shuddering light show.

It doesn’t always work, and as the set pushes on, the songs blur together, the two-piece set-up producing something more stolid than vital. Technical problems seem to become more teething, with terse gestures off-stage, and the guitar’s thrash, far overpowering the volume of the vocals, covers patchy harmonies, bawling on the verge of teenage atonality.

Where Japandroids get it right, though, is that their music speaks to a collective, not to isolated individuals. At the end of the show, they set about finding a die-hard fan to help perform their closing song, a cover of Gun Club’s ‘For The Love Of Ivy’. Their first recruit is a teeny scrag-end who reveals himself to be more intent on finding his missing shoes and promoting his own band than engaging with King. “You’ve just lost your stage privileges,” says the singer as he sends the guy packing, a decision to which the crowd roar in approval, given all the more force from (almost) everyone coming here to have a good time. When the drums finally kick in, they have an audience member willing to make the “biggest stage dive ever” as King directs; he's held aloft throughout, the only fitting end for this show. Taken in the spirit it’s given, this is celebration rock after all.