Amidst non-stop rains and wide spread flooding in the city last week, Brian King and David Prowse, collectively known as Japandroids, arrived in Manila as part of a regional tour. Thankfully, a good-sized audience braved the pounding rains brought by Typhoon Maring and the habagat and were lined up outside the Hard Rock Café in Makati City when I got there at 8 p.m. on Monday night.
Brian and David set-up their own equipment and instruments and took their sweet time doing so, making sure that every last note they coaxed out of their instruments was just right. Brian, the guitarist wore his trademark rolled-up-sleeves white shirt tucked into skinny black jeans and black sneakers, while the David the drummer wore jeans and a black T-shirt. Audience members whistled, clapped and “woo-hooed” almost nonstop at the littlest smile or nod of acknowledgment from either one, but after they were done with sound check they kept the audience waiting some more as they jumped back offstage.
“We’re from Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada,” Brian said after an opening set by local band Flying Ipis. The two-member band has released two full-length albums and played sold-out shows all over the world. I saw them once before on a massive stage with thousands of other people (at the Laneway Music Festival in Singapore earlier this year), but, in the intimate space, with perhaps no more than 200 to 300 of the most hardcore of fans, it was different. It was like being invited to an exclusive, members-only club and standing witness to something truly special.
While missing personnel may prove troublesome and downright pathetic for a standard rock band, it somehow works for Japandroids. They’re similar to The White Stripes only as far as headcount is concerned, but while Jack and Meg White’s now-defunct outfit experimented with sounds and went way out there in genre and style, Japandroids are a rock band through and through. They opened with “Adrenaline Nightshift,” which was as good a song as any to introduce the band to new listeners that evening. It was loud, fast with a kicky, anthemic chorus (“There is no high like this/Adrenaline nightshift”), which pretty much sums up the band’s entire oeuvre. King’s electric guitar shone and reverberated throughout the space, complicated yet reassuring, heavy yet transcendent. Prowse was no pushover, either. It’s probably not the easiest thing in the world to sing and pound the drums simultaneously, but he certainly never let on that he was having any difficulties.
King said that because Japandroids have only released two full-length albums (Post Nothing in 2009 and Celebration Rock in 2012), they would be playing practically all of their songs. They certainly played all of the fan favorites, including “Wet Hair,” “Fire’s Highway,” “The Nights of Wine And Roses,” “Younger Us” and “Evil’s Sway.” They even played “Continuous Thunder,” which is as close as they’ve come to writing a “slow” song. People cheered and screamed practically non-stop for all the songs as if they knew each and every one by heart, which was heartening considering they don’t get regular mainstream radio play in these parts and their physical albums are not commercially available, except online.
“We’re gonna need your help with this one,” Brian said, before launching into arguably the band’s biggest “hit,” “The House That Heaven Built.” Released only last year, it is perhaps the ultimate Japandroids song: an instantly recognizable opening guitar riff; a throbbing drum beat; poetic, Led Zeppelin-esque lyrics; soaring, almost wailing vocals, and of course, that unmistakable, catchy-as-hell refrain of “oh’s”. It’s undoubtedly my favorite song from the group and one I looked most forward to hearing sung live, back in Singapore and here now in Manila.
Brian didn’t sound as good as he did on the record, but given the duo’s backbreaking tour schedule—almost 200 shows in the last 12 months alone—it was understandable. Besides, when you’re so caught up in the throes of a favorite song sung live with hundreds of other fans feeling the same way, pretty much nothing else matters. It was five minutes of blistering rock music that connected everyone in the room that evening.
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