REVIEW: Japandroids, Small Ballroom, Saturday July 15

JAPANDROIDS could never get away with merely phoning in a performance.

Anyone that’s familiar with the Canadian garage punk duo’s 2012 cult classic album Celebration Rock, knows Japandroids are a sonic assault. A sledgehammer of force to your ear drums and heart. Nothing is done half-arsed.

For those unfamiliar with their style, imagine what Bruce Springsteen might have sounded like if he’d grown up in the same neighbourhood as CBGBs, rather than across the Hudson River in New Jersey.

The good news is Japandroids lived up to their lofty reputation when guitarist Brian King and drummer David Prowse made their Newcastle debut on Saturday night at Islington’s Small Ballroom.

While Japandroids deserved far better than a three-quarter full Small Ballroom, the venue did provide an in-your-face intimacy for the mostly male audience.

In a week when unsubstantiated claims have been made on blogs about bands avoiding Newcastle due to violent crowds, Japandroids’ fans were nothing but respectful.

There was little banter or small talk. These Vancouver lads were about business.

King dressed in tight black jeans and a 7th St Entry t-shirt quickly whipped himself into a sweaty mess of intensity as he belted out the opener Near to the Wild Heart of Life, the title track of their latest album.

Other new songs like the terrific North East South West, Arc Of Bar and I’m Sorry (For Not Finding You Sooner) showed off Japandroids’ latest exploration in Americana and synths, but predominantly the performance stayed anchored in the realm of hard and gritty garage rock.

Neither King or Prowse attempted to wow their audience with acts of virtuosity. Their currency of trade is intensity.

King strangled the neck of his guitar and thrashed away in a distorted fuzz of power chords. Riffs and solos were not required.

King also spat out the lyrics like he believed every word. When he sang lines like “Whoring my heart/On the wings of a western night/Busting my guts/On a riot dose of paradise” on Adrenaline Nightshift you believed it too.

Prowse’s drumming was simplistic, but effective. It was fast, frenetic and served the needs of the songs. He even took vocal duties on several tracks, including Midnight To Moving.

Long-term fans of Japandroids weren’t left disappointed. King and Prowse dusted off frantic renditions of Heart Sweats and Young Hearts Spark Fire.

What everyone wanted, however, was the anthemic The House That Heaven Built, a song which basically serves as a Japandroids’ mission statement. The song was the 17th and final song of the evening and worth the wait.

The crowd sang in unison through the chorus of “If they try to slow you down/tell them all to go to hell.”

Hopefully Japandroids don’t slow down because this band has all the elements of great rock’n’roll – passion, intensity, and most importantly, terrific tunes.