Review: Do Japandroids dream of electric sheep?
The big show of the weekend was obviously Japandroids, put on and well-promoted by Split Works.
HIMDONG opened the show. It’s been a few months since I’ve seen him play, and he’s picked up a bassist and drummer now, both of whom were pretty good. I’m hoping this is a stable line-up. I really like what Dong does — his guitar-heavy songs are somewhat dark and heavy-sounding, but melodic — so it’s going to be great to see what develops if indeed this is a permanent line-up. He had a few rough patches in the set, and overall I think the vocals need work in that they’re mostly lost in everything else, but honestly, since he’s started playing around Shanghai I always look forward to hearing him because I just think he’s doing interesting stuff.
Death to Giants played next, and I think these two are quickly becoming a Shanghai mainstay, for good reason. I’ve never been disappointed with one of their sets, but on Saturday night they were ON. Their songs are varied and fun and dark and rhythmically really cool and they have an awesome stage presence. Really, they’re just getting better and better. Their set on Saturday included possibly the scariest scatting I’ve ever heard (with a little help from trumpeter Michael Corayer), along with some staples and a new (to me) song that I think may become the song of ex-pats: The Family Mart Anthem.
Side note: Convenience stores have an almost god-like status in Shanghai. They’re more than convenient: they’re a lifestyle. You can pay your bills. You can get coupons or the news or find out about what’s happening around town. You can buy beer and imported wine and British tea and cappuccino. You can get condoms and vibrators and sundries for your home. You can get food. But not just crappy convenience store food: entire meals put together by people and prepackaged everything else including fruit and vegetables and drinks galore. And then they will heat it for you and you can sit at a table or counter and eat it with other people.
People have their favorites (Family Mart/Lawsons) and they also have the ones they hate and would rather die of thirst than set foot in (Buddies). But pretty much every ex-pat discovers at a certain point that, after the initial shininess of Shanghai wears off and you realize that paying 90rmb for a shit drink at some Bund bar is ludicrous — you will find yourself, slightly drunk, sitting on a curb outside of Family Mart on a Saturday night, drinking gigantic beers you’ve just bought inside and thinking that it is the most amazing thing you’ve ever done in Shanghai.
The Family Mart Anthem is that experience in song. Also, it features the fucking annoying Family Mart jingle that plays every time the door opens. How Family Mart employees don’t go mental and wreck the places on a regular basis after hearing that song 800 times during a shift is beyond me. Anyway, the song is awesome for Shanghailanders. I’ll post it when I find a copy of it.
I was kind of doubtful that Japandroids could actually top Death to Giants, to be honest. They were that good. But Japandroids finally came on and bless their little Canadian hearts but they actually started playing before 11! On a Saturday night! It was bliss. Bliss because I had to work on Sunday morning. It was as if they moved the start time up just for me, those lovely little beings.
Japandroids started their show by saying, “Hi. I’m Brian. He’s David. We are Japandroids. We are from Vancouver, British Columbia. Thank you for inviting us to Shanghai; it’s our first time here,” or something equally as adorable and Canadian as that. Politest garage band ever. And you know, they were your pretty standard two-piece garage rock band. They didn’t wow me, but they were professional, energetic and very, very sweaty (though to be fair, EVERYONE was very, very sweaty). They played a solid set. I’d listened to their two albums pretty extensively before the show and liked them, and surprisingly I prefer them recorded, but it’s not like they were lacking on stage. There were people in the audience who knew every word to every song (“Canadians”) so they’ve got to have a decent fan base. I couldn’t help but compare them to some of the two-pieces that Shanghai’s got (Death to Giants, Pairs, X is Y) and Japandroids won out on polish and professionalism, but that’s to be expected. But as far as music, I found them enjoyable but not as interesting as some local or other international bands in the same genre.
The show itself was well done and I was a bit worried that Yuyintang wouldn’t be able to accommodate an act like Japandroids (not the band, the fans), but it was alright. The show was sold out, but it wasn’t packed as tightly as I thought it would be. I mean, the crowd was probably the biggest I’d ever seen in YYT, but I felt that if there was a fire, probably most of us would’ve survived, which is how I judge if something is too crowded or not. It was wickedly, disgusted hot inside, but there was nothing really to be done about that. Like, so hot your hands stuck together when you clapped. The audience looked like we had escaped from a water park and happened to stop by a gig on our way home. Also, there was this guy behind me who kept blowing on the back of my neck, which was sooo creepy, but, um, it also felt pretty good? I was conflicted. So weird. But it was just a lot of people in a small venue on a hot day with one air-con unit over the main area. I felt more for the musicians who had to perform in the heat. Cut-offs (Japandroids’ uniform of choice) were perfectly appropriate.
Anyway, it was a strong showing from all three performers, and one thing I really like about international acts when they come to Shanghai is the opportunities for the local bands who get to open for them. Gigs like Japandroids bring people to Yuyintang who wouldn’t normally come to YYT, and by proxy they get exposed to some cool local stuff that they might not hear otherwise. So, you know, good all around.
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