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.
Japandroids rocked the Bronson Centre on Sunday Night.
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.
A few weekends ago Matias and I traveled to Toronto to see Japandroids play two nights at The Danforth Music Hall.
The minute these tickets went on sale we snatched up a pair online and got really excited. You see, Japandroids hold a very special place in the Ottawa Showbox story. Four years ago around this time, I met Matias and a few months later we bonded over the track “Younger Us” while at one of my lowest points, having recently come out of a long term relationship.
It was something special to see the band live with my good buddy and hear them play the song that truly connected us and changed my commitment to the city of Ottawa from football coach to music journalist. It was a very powerful moment.
Japandroids brought the best out of the crowd at Toronto’s Danforth Music Hall. Photo: Matias Munoz/Ottawa Showbox
After talking to someone at a party, I sent Matias my resume to work for Ottawa Showbox. I included clippings and a cover letter as if it was this big time production. Matias probably read it in his boxers sitting on the couch eating cereal. One of those clippings was of a Flatliners’ show I covered, which struck a chord with Matias and he knew we had to meet. Not long after I sent my application, we met up and chatted about shows, music, and the Ottawa scene.
It was kind of funny teaming up with a guy pretty new to Ottawa to cover a music scene I grew up in. The only thing was, I had been very disconnected from the “scene” and the wonderful people in it for almost 5 years. I wrote my first piece for Showbox in February 2013, and in March of that year my girlfriend of nearly 6 years and I broke up. We all know how love scars your heart, just listen to Japandroids. I quickly shifted all my attention to going to shows and writing. To be clear, my ex-girlfriend didn’t keep me from it, but this new found time and emptiness was filled with the passion of using my journalism degree and the love for my city and its music burst from the seams all of a sudden.
I went from not knowing the guy to hanging out with him 2, 3, even 4 times a week. We quickly became best friends. A few months after we started hanging out, Matias’ long term relationship also came to an end. I will never forget the night of just hanging out the two us talking about what was next for us and the site. Matias put on Japandroids, a band I knew but hadn’t followed closely for a while. When “Younger Us” came on something just took us over. This is what we wanted. We wanted to party, hang out, go to shows and have people in our lives we could call up who were already in bed and would say “fuck it” and get up to go out instead. I listened to the song non-stop. On my way to work, at work, at the gym, on my way home… it became all- encompassing, it was the theme song to our friendship. It was very rare to not play the song at least once when we hung out together at one of our places.
“Give me younger us!” we, Matias, Tony and myself, sang at the top of our lungs. Photo by Devon Salmon
This made the shows in Toronto extra special. Yes, the new album is absolutely phenomenal and from the starting distortion and very first drum beat of the opening song “Near to the Wild Heart of Life” we were amped and singing along. The set was wonderful and had a little bit of everything covering the band’s discography. To top it all off, it was held in the absolutely beautiful Danforth Music Hall. It took 13 songs, but it was finally time for “Younger Us.” As soon as we heard the very first strum of the guitar we both jumped in glee and threw an arm over each others’ shoulder and sang so loud we probably drowned out the band for nearby fans (sorry about that). A magical moment in my life and our friendship. It was as special the second night when we could share the moment with some more Ottawa pals who came down for the show.
After 4 years and probably close to 500 posts, it took a band from BC playing in Toronto to remind me and reignite my love and commitment to Ottawa and its beautiful music scene. Here is to many more nights, many more shows, and to forever being younger us.
It’s cold outside. Looking out the window, I see my neighbourhood draped in snow. Cars are moving in slow motion and people are walking with their faces down in the type of trudge you must only ever see in northern winter cities. All in all it’s a good day to stay inside, a good day for soup.
The process of soup-making can be greatly enhanced by choosing the right background music and today I’m feeling something energetic and happy. It’s daytime right now and slower wintery folk like Deep Dark Woods or Hayden feels more like an evening thing. Japandroids it is. They maintain that perfect blend of Canadian punk and classic rock undertones that flew off the west coast and hit radios everywhere in 2012 with their album Celebration Rock. The energy on this album is infectious, the type of music that, when listened to while driving, causes your foot to push the gas pedal until you’re somehow going 130 km/h in a 50. As the sounds of fireworks come through the speaker and the first guitar riff makes its entrance, I’m feeling instantly more animated and lively.
Now for the soup: like music, there are endless soup possibilities, literally hundreds of options to choose from in each country on earth, but today’s music choice pulls my mind to the Far East. Japan, known as the Land of Soups (no it’s not), is home to a wide range of different soups and stews, but I’m still thinking energetic and happy. I’m thinking ramen.
The song “Fire’s Highway” propels me into kitchen, I’m already picturing my soon to be soup… a knock-David-Chang-on-his-ass-make-a-grown-Japanese-noodle-maker-cry kind of soup. I look in my cupboards, ready to pull out the 50 ingredients that go into a good ramen.
I have 6 of them.
Fuck it — I’ll just make packaged ramen.
Instant ramen noodles, popular with harried moms, broke students, bachelors and most of Asia were invented back in the 1950s by the Japanese. By flash frying cooked noodles, companies were able to preserve them, giving them an almost indefinite shelf life. Ironically, instant ramen started out as a luxury item, its initial price being somewhere around 39 cents — the same price as a pack of Mr. Noodles today! Fresh noodles at that time were just way cheaper, but the idea took hold and people started buying instant ramen in droves.
This has never stopped.
Nearly 100 billion packages of instant noodles are eaten every year, by people in every continent. There are nearly as many types of instant ramen as people who eat it and most are pretty decent. I find the $0.99-$1.99 ones to be the best tasting, but really it’s all subjective. In Japan, the noodles are made in large factories by a combination of robotic machines and human workers… Japandroids?
I reach around in the cupboard and blindly pull out a package of ramen. It’s a Korean Nongshim Shin Ramyun brand pack of spicy noodles. Since fate, laziness and a lack of decent restaurant ramen in town forced me to eat the instant kind, the least I could do is amp them up a little bit. What I do happen to have in my fridge/pantry that would go well with the ramen are as follows: Sesame oil, home made kimchi, green onion, eggs, and gochujang paste. Another combination that could work for you condiment lovers out there would be: fish sauce, sriracha, cilantro, lime and canned/frozen corn. Or miso paste, frozen edamame (shucked), eggs, leftover pork or chicken (sliced thinly) and spinach. Really, it’s whatever you have on hand that would be tasty added to your soup.
The best part of instant ramen? Even with my additions it’s still done before the album ends, and I get to slurp back noodles (irreparably damaging the inside of my mouth with the lava-hot broth) while rocking out to “The House That Heaven Built” and “Continuous Thunder.”
Here’s the “recipe” for my meal today, Korean-style augmented instant ramen:
– 1 package of spicy style instant ramen
– 1 egg
– 1 tablespoon of gochujang (sold in all Korean and many pan-Asian grocery stores in a red tub, it’s a spicy fermented pepper paste and is ubiquitous in Korean cuisine)
– 1 green or spring onion
– Big forkful of homemade or store bought kimchi (Korean spicy pickled cabbage)
– 1 teaspoon sesame oil
Grab a small pot and fill it with enough water to cover an egg by an inch or two.
Bring that pot to a boil. Once boiling, set a timer for 5 minutes and gently put your egg into the pot, best way is to use a spoon.
While the egg is boiling, slice up a green onion using a knife, or a pair of scissors, throwing out the root end and the very tip of the green end.
Fill a bowl with very cold water.
Once the 5 minutes is up, immediately dump out the hot water and move the egg to the cold water, leaving it for at least 1 minute to stop it cooking from the inside.
Fill the pot back up with 2 cups of water.
Bring that water back to a boil. In the meantime, carefully peel your egg.
Once the water is boiling, add the gochujang, noodles and spice pack and stir it up.
After 1 or 2 minutes eat one of the noodles to test for doneness. If ready, add the kimchi and stir.
Take the soup off the heat and transfer to a bowl. Sprinkle on the green onions and sesame oil. Place the egg on top and whack it with a spoon, it should break open and let out some of its perfectly soft yolk.
‘Tis the season to look back on the year and recall some of the best music. Before we enter 2o13 (provided the world doesn’t end in a few weeks, which is so very likely) and wait in anticipation for new releases to come, we should reflect on the hard work, time and craftsmanship that went into so many of this past year’s albums. I often find lists arbitrary, because they are completely subjective and don’t always represent the best all-round music. In any case, these are my picks for 2012 — the albums that had the biggest impact on me throughout the year. There are so many other albums that came out this year that are worthy of mention, and I’m sure many different blogs throughout Canada will give them some well-deserved attention. I don’t expect everyone to agree, but enjoy anyways!