Japandroids Prove Themselves Worthy of 'Massey Fucking Hall' on Triumphant Live Album

BY Ian GormelyPublished Jun 23, 2020

Japandroids seem tailored for the live experience – made up of shredding guitar, pounding drums and gang-vocal "whoa-oh" choruses, their music oozes the kind of blood, sweat and booze that you can only get from cramped clubs or festival stages. Basically, Japandroids thrive in environments where bathroom hygiene is, at best, an afterthought.

Yet, as showcased on their new live album, Massey Fucking Hall, the Vancouver duo are more than capable of meeting the challenge of transferring that energy to a soft-seat theatre. Taking the stage at the legendary Toronto concert hall, whose floorboards have been graced by everyone from George Gershwin to Neil Young to Justin Bieber, singer-guitarist Brian King and drummer David Prowse sound right at home.

Recorded during the band's stop at the 3,000-seat theatre while on tour supporting 2017's Near to the Wild Heart of Life, the LP captures a band who have honed their performance both from a technical (see: Prowse's on-point backing vocals) and performance standpoints. The size of their sound, helped by the Hall's great acoustics, is huge, matching the weight and volume of their recordings — no easy feat when there's just a single guitar and drums.

Japandroids discography is one that lends itself to pedal-to-the-metal performances. It would be very easy to draw up a setlist that consisted purely of high-speed peaks. But Prowse and singer-guitarist Brian King understand that it's the valleys, pacing-wise, that make those peaks so high, and they crafted a set to reflect that. Song's lengths are stretched, tempos brought low only to rise back up. The epic "Arc of Bar" feels heavier and like far less of an outlier here than it does on record, while cuts like "Heart Sweats" and "Sovereignty" from their debut, Post-Nothing, are given new life.

Any live document is going to have to reconcile the push-pull between the band's performance and energy of the crowd — balancing the two is never easy. Arguably, the record could have used a little bit more of the latter, to dirty up the sound, to make it seem a bit more like those of us listening along were there. Still, the main test for any live record is that it doesn't just make you want to listen to the studio counterparts, and Massey Fucking Hall succeeds by making itself a stellar standalone part of the band's discography.

As the record ends, King alludes to the incongruency of a band with Japandroids' aesthetic performing in a place like Massey Hall, thanking fans who gathered at the lip of the stage "for making us feel like this is a normal Japandroids show." Yet, Japandroids are more than capable of living up to Massey's history, and Massey Fucking Hall captures Japandroids in this unique (for them at least) setting at the peak of their powers.
(Arts & Crafts)

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