Brian King’s pinky – that dexterous, flitting thing at the far edge of the Japandroids frontman’s left hand – toggles between the strings and see-saws the fret board of his red Telecaster Deluxe, while the rest of his fingers grip the neck in power-chord formation. There’s no extra guitar player to give King the freedom to skitter about his axe, nor does King overdub much in the studio to flesh out his six-string’s wide, open-sky roar. His pinky takes care of all of that. It did so again on Wednesday at Manhattan’s Bowery Ballroom: during “The Night of Wine and Roses,” the opening track on the Vancouver duo’s new LP, Celebration Rock, a final, explosive, pinky-stretching act ensued after an audience-assisted bellow of, “We yell like hell to the heavens! WOAAAHHHHH!!”
It was Japandroids’ first of two-sold out shows in New York City (they’ll play Brooklyn’s Music Hall of Williamsburg on Thursday), and King and his partner in rock, the deceptively stoic drummer David Prowse, ripped through every song off Celebration Rock plus favorites from their 2009 debut, Post Nothing. The room was packed, and up front the hordes lurched and howled until perspiration plastered bangs to brows. King hurled himself about, too, leaping off monitors, climbing atop the bass drum and hollering “woah oh” after “woah oh,” while Prowse manned the drum kit with a quiet fury that held down the fort while simultaneously bashing it to smithereens.
Montreal rapper Cadence Weapon opened the concert with highlights from his first two records and his latest effort, Hope in Dirt City. As his DJ, Kuhrye-oo, spun beats that thumped and blipped, he tore through songs like “Oliver Square” and the Grimes-sampling “88, while newer tracks like “Jukebox” and “Hope in Dirt City” showed the MC stretching his vocal chords by screaming and singing, respectively.
At about a quarter after ten, Japandroids walked onto the stage, which had been set up so that Prowse’s kit sat in the foreground and directly faced King, whose impressive amp stack towered behind him. The arrangement was conducive to some striking rock tableaus in which King and Prowse engaged in stare-downs – moments not to be glossed over. Half the joy of a Japandroids concert is watching King and Prowse – two excellent musicians, but more importantly, two best friends – lock eyes as they tear through the instrumental builds of tracks like “Fire’s Highway” or “Wet Hair.” It’s that bond that allows Japandroids to give breathless show after breathless show, and on this night, the audience gladly added their support. “Are you the fucking third member of the band when you see Coldplay?” King joked at one point, as the crowd sang every word of standouts like “Adrenaline Nightshift,” “Younger Us,” and the furious closer, their cover of the Gun Club’s “For The Love of Ivy.”
The band worked through a few kinks here and there, and at times the crowd’s support grew overzealous and off key, drowning out the group during Celebration Rock’s first single, “The House That Heaven Built.” But there was still was a moment during that number when everything coalesced right when it should have, and the missteps hardly mattered. It came when King, Prowse and everyone at Bowery Ballroom belted in unison about the celebration of rock and friendship, love and life and all that good stuff. “It’s a lifeless life with no fixed address to give/But you’re not mine to die for anymore, so I must live!”