Japandroids made their triumphant return to Ottawa this past Sunday after nearly a decade away. They brought with them Cloud Nothings, a gritty garage rock band from Cleveland, Ohio, who made their Ottawa debut at the Bronson Centre.
I fell into Cloud Nothings as they were dropping their third album, Attack on Memory, back in 2012 and never looked back. Their 2014 followup Here and Nowhere Else and their 2015 split with WAVVES called No Life For Me were equally impactful—each had their own character and feel that I thoroughly enjoyed. This is one band I had somehow missed at all the festivals and shows I’d been to over the years, and their perceived avoidance of Ottawa was truly a bummer.
But that all changed Sunday night, as this stacked bill had no problems packing the Bronson Centre’s main floor. Cloud Nothing have seemed to always tow a line of self-defeatism, the “down-and-out” rockers on Attack on Memory finally pulled through and found a semblance of purpose on the gritty followup Here and Nowhere Else. So when Life Without Sound emerged earlier this year, it was exciting, yet I was skeptical and unsure of what to expect. However, when the needled dropped for the first time, it was like a breath of fresh air. The band’s new songs translated incredibly well live, and band members fed off each others stage energy. The album itself comes off as more refined, more direct, and less chaotic than their previous efforts. Songs like “Up to the Surface” and “Enter Entirely” are more restrained than much of their catalogue, and the John Goodmanson’s production gives Life Without Sound a more cohesive and refined feel.
On the stage, Cloud Nothings were tight as hell and nailed every moment of their performance. With this kind of music, it’s easy to get lost in the fuzzy riffs and percussive thunderclaps, but the band strung their set together with ease and precision. Dylan Baldi let loose on a number of occasions and didn’t hesitate to crank up the rasp and scream into his mic. One feature of the set that stood out was drummer Jayson Gerycz’s total domination of the kit. On multiple occasions, he took the spotlight and commanded the drum set with reckless abandon. His tirades were a welcome fixture in their performance, particularly at the end, as he seemed to lock eyes with the all audience members at the same time while pounding our senses with his kick. If Ottawa didn’t know Cloud Nothings before, they sure do now.
Next up was Vancouver’s Japandroids, pleasing the audience with their much anticipated return to the capital. Lean vocalist and guitarist Brian King noted the long absence, and shared a funny story with the crowd about their last Ottawa gig. The duo formed in 2006 and slugged it out in the Vancouver scene for years, often taking a DIY approach to music and putting together their own shows and do short tours in the area. They put out a couple of EPs in 2007 and 2008, but started to turn heads with their debut LP Post-Nothing. With irresistible jams like “Heart Sweats,” “Young Hearts Spark Fire,” and “Wet Hair,” this is about the time that I fell in love with the band.
Their second LP Celebration Rock was released in 2012, and was almost universally acclaimed by major music publications. It is also pretty much my favourite album of all time, but I digress. Japandroids dug deep into their catalogue and played songs spanning their 3 LPs and gave fans old and new everything they wanted. The tone was set right away as they opened with the title track of their latest record Near to the Wild Heart of Life, an all-out rock and roll anthem that immediately unleashed the energy of the crowd. The crowd indulged in the vocal refrains (“oh oh oh’s”) which has become such a staple in Japandroids tracks, and a truly unifying force. Given the current state of things in the world, picture hundreds of young folks yelling the chorus:
“And it got me all fired up / To go far away / And make some ears ring from the sound of my singing, baby”
The group played older tracks such as “Heart Sweats” and “Young Hearts Spark Fire,” as well as many off of Celebration Rock like “The Nights of Wine and Roses,” “Fire’s Highway, and my personal favourite “Younger Us” (which I would like to be played loudly at my funeral, but I digress).
Japandroids delivered a full dose of raw and unhinged emotion in every song they play. David Prowse’s drumming was as great as ever, but his vocals were noticeably improved since the first time I saw the band back in 2013. His back up presence boosted the overall impact of each song, and it was clear that the two of them had each song down to near perfection. King kept the audience engaged at all times, and didn’t let up throughout the set even though the heat and lack of ventilation in the Bronson Centre was getting noticeably worse as they played.
Even new songs with a different instrumental approach such as “Arc of Bar” and “North East South West” were performed immaculately, and if anyone in the crowd was not on the board with the new record, they were hidden by bodies flying and silenced by the screams of many.
King took a quick pause to share an anecdote about their last time in Ottawa:
“It was at Ottawa Bluesfest in 2009, I think. And it was pissing rain. We were having the best time, but the stage crew was rushing to cover all of our gear with tarps to get the hell out of there. They just wanted us to stop so they could go see Kiss play on the other stage.”
All in all, the group did what they do best—giving the audience the best possible performance. Coming off a raucous night in Montreal (which my friends and I also attended), the Ottawa show was just as impactful—if not more so, only because anticipation had been building for almost a decade. They closed out with one of their biggest songs, the triumphant anthem “The House That Heaven Built.” With fists pumping in the air, shirts soaked with sweat, and vocal cords bursting at the seams, we all sang our god damn hearts out and yelled like hell to the heavens.
My only advice is this: if you haven’t listened to or seen Japandroids before, do it. They are what rock and roll infused with punk rock look like in 2017, and their music will pick you back up on your feet when the world knocks you down.
Check out Spectrasonic’s upcoming shows here.
Photos by Els Durnford