Published Oct 06, 2016When Japandroids announced their four-night hometown residency at the Cobalt back in August, the beloved indie rock duo had laid dormant for three years. They'd wrapped the lengthy, several-hundred show Celebration Rock tour at the end of 2013 in Buenos Aires, without so much as a murmur after that about when the band would return. Vocalist/guitarist Brian King bounced around Toronto for a while; drummer Dave Prowse could be seen smacking skins for Louise Burns.
At the very least, this new series of sold-out hometown shows meant the boys were back in town and ready to play for an adoring public. Many, no doubt, were also snapping up tickets just in case King and Prowse were into previewing a third full-length. Excitement hung in the air at the Cobalt as it filled up, the beads of sweat building up on neck and ceiling lines alike. This was Anticipation Rock.
Though a little too politely received, local punks Needles//Pins started the night off with punky aplomb. Throughout, guitarist/vocalist Adam Ess's black ball cap was pulled tight across his eyes and resting on the microphone foam while he screeched out songs like the scrappy "Drop It." Late in the set, bassist Tony Dubroy, the only four-stringer the stage would see this night, spilled the beans on Needles//Pins' upcoming recording session with Jesse Gander, a Vancouver producer the musician pointed out had also recorded the as-to-be-detailed third full-length from headliners Japandroids.
Following the opening act's confirmation, King and Prowse climbed the stage and admitted they'd be testing out a handful of new songs from their next record. "There's no point in hiding it," King quipped, after thanking the sardine-packed Cobalt crowd for "remembering we exist." They started off with "Arc of Bar," an extended piece that began with a loop of chunky, '80s-style rock synths and a simply slammed drum rhythm from Prowse. Gripping the mic hard in between each open chord, King knocked off an epic, wordy tale of "hustlers and whores" in the "flesh bazaar." Coming in well over the five-minute mark, it was a lot to absorb for a first listen, but the crowd roared their approval.
The night would see the act delivering a handful of newbies. "Near to the Wild Heart of Life" was a full-on Japandroids fist-pumper that featured a line about getting a smooch and some supportive words from your local's bartender ("give 'em hell for us!"). While Prowse often tag-teams with King on the mic or supports with a round of "whoas" and "ohs," "Midnight to Morning" featured a rare and especially enthusiastic lead vocal from the bearded skinsman.
While the newer tunes fared well with the faithful, the crowd officially went bonkers each time they were treated to a classic. Playful push pits and mass sing-alongs were triggered almost instantaneously for juiced-up rockers like "Evil's Sway," "The Nights of Wine and Roses" and Post-Nothing oldie "Wet Hair," the throng goofily and passionately chiming in with the duo on the latter to howl about French-kissing French girls.
Despite the love, King, his sleeves capped Springsteen-style and clutching a Telecaster, seemed to be especially nervous, making quips all night about how the act are still getting back into shape. "It feels like performing in front of people for the very first time," he said, though he admitted that Japandroids were warming up nicely as the show progressed. At the very least, he joked, they were getting one per cent better each song. That said, there was a long, late-set lull that Prowse called the "What the hell do we do next?" part of their set. After a few minutes, they settled on playing slo-crush shoegaze ballad "I Quit Girls."
They capped the show not with a new song, nor with one of their own, but with their oft-played cover of the Gun Club's "For the Love of Ivy."
"We didn't exactly practice this one, but it makes for a good closer," King said ahead of launching into a banged-and-bashed, occasionally off-the-rails finale.
Under-rehearsed? Possibly, but Japandroids' first show back was full of enough jittery confidence to suggest they're more than ready to handle another three shows at the Cobalt, not to mention however many hundred they could end up booking once the as-yet-untitled album is out.