The Independent in San Francisco holds 500 people. It is the premier small venue in the Bay Area. On Thursday, Vancouver sent their premier small band and the two converged in a symbiotic mind meld that turned San Francisco into a place where degenerates, punkers and drunkards were one. I knew Japandroids had a phenomenal new album. What I didn’t know was how brilliant they were live. There was a line out the door when the opening act was finishing his set and when I actually got into the venue it was like being in a steam room.
There were people were jampacked, anticipating the raw energy of punk rock’s return to the Bay Area. It’s been so long since that itch has been scratched up here. In the ‘90s the kids from 924 Gilman Street exulted in their domination of the punk scene, but now their making Broadway plays and their days of punk domination have been in the rearview mirror for some time now. Japandroids are the ones willing to take the baton and run with it, and run with it they did on Thursday.
Playing just about every song in their arsenal, they came out like a match and ended up turning into a forest fire. Lead singer Brian King played like one as he thrashed around the stage like a man possessed. The energy was palpable and soon the crowd was thrashing about, turning itself into a human pinball machine and moshing about like that was still a thing people did at shows. Drummer David Prowse (not to be confused with the guy that played Darth Vader) was unreal on the skins. He bashed them so hard you’d think he held a grudge against them. He reminded me so much of Nirvana-era Dave Grohl that I was waiting for the moment when Scooby took off his mask.
It’s kitschy now to just have two member bands. First it was Marty & Elaine, then the White Stripes, then the Black Keys and now Japandroids. Of course, there are a few bands in between, but they’re of little consequence. What was shown on Thursday was that a band with such sublime chops as Japandroids can easily get away with just two members. In fact a third might get in the way. The way King throws himself around the stage, and it’s possible he’d up in jail for manslaughter if a third member were allowed to enter this rocking duet.
With three songs left in their set, King took to the mic, as he did so often throughout the show, and apologized. The crowd was a bit confused, but he said “We’re about to play ‘Continuous Thunder’ it’s sort of a mellow, slower song. So if it bums you out I promise we’ll play some heavy jammers after it.” True to their word they absolutely nailed the last two songs and in the final one of the night with sweat dripping out of every pore, yet still with the energy of a five-year-old on a sugar high, King jumped on top of the drum set swung his arm in a circle Pete Townshend style and screamed as kicked the cymbal. Prowse beating the drums harder than at any point during the night then kicked over the tom drum and crashed the cymbals to the floor as King jumped off backwards while still playing.
Earlier in the evening when King came out for sound check he said, “Everything works. It’s gonna be a good fucking night.” Good doesn’t even begin to describe this band. They single handedly resurrected the ghosts of punk rock’s past and brought them to the hearts and minds of fractured youth of San Francisco. In those few moments when the crowd was leaving, I overheard someone say, “It kind of suck that I have to go to work tomorrow. I’d like to bask in this just a little more.” I couldn’t have said it better myself.