October 9th in Vancouver was partly composed of torrential rain and a hockey game: really, your typical Saturday night in the city. But even though the majority of Vancouverites were crammed into bars to watch their beloved Canucks celebrate their 40th anniversary and start off the hockey season, there was a surprising amount of people packed in the sold-out Rickshaw Theater to watch hometown heroes Ladyhawk and Japandroids rock their faces off.
And what better place to do it. Though the Rickshaw has a few problems (mainly the sound system, which kills eardrums with its unbalanced frequencies, and the fact that they charge $5.50 for a can of beer), its concrete aura, ramshackle theater seats and dark, dive-bar lighting provides the perfect showcase for up-and-coming indie bands and underground favorites. I don’t think there’s another venue in the city in which you can huck beers at each other and not feel bad about it. Concrete flooring can easily be washed down after.
The first act of the evening that really got the crowd going was a duo from Kingston, Ontario called PS I Love You. Thankfully their music was not in any way like the schmaltzy Hillary Swank film. It was loud, crunchy, and complex. Singer/guitarist Paul Saulnier has a quiet stage presence, and a yelping voice that I could do without, but he plays his guitar like it’s on fire and drummer Benjamin Nelson has some seriously wicked skills. As a prelude to the other sonic duo of that evening, Japandroids, PS I Love You proved that you can get get a hell of a lot of noise from a single pair.
Next up was Kelowna’s Ladyhawk, a band my friend affectionately described as “songs about Canadians getting drunk” – after all, their 2008 album release was called Shots. And though the boozey appeal of the band was there, there was a whole lot more to it than just party anthems. These indie rockers really knew how to mix the poppy, fist-shaking rock with greasy, indie riffs. At times it even felt Weezer-esque, if Weezer took to playing in bars on the wrong side of town. It was a dark combination that charged up the audience. The final song (apparently about Kathy Lee Gifford, or whatever her name is now) had the drummer and guitarist switching places and still performing at the top of their game. Pretty cool.
Then came time for the Japandroids to hit the stage. The crowd had suddenly ballooned in size, swelling around the tiny stage, hoping to get a glimpse of Vancouver’s favorite indie duo. The Japandroids have been getting a lot of attention world-wide lately, thanks to their rollicking live shows, dedication on the festival circuit and their mega-long tours but I had yet to catch the band play their hometown. Though their set at the Bumbershoot Festival in September was catchy and infectious, they obviously saved their best for their rainy West Coast city.
Singer/guitarist Brian King and singer/drummer David Prowse did everything they could to set the crowd alight and it worked. From King’s manic strutting, haunting voice, and feverish guitar work to Prowse’s joyous face and unmerciful hammering, you were amazed that two people could produce so much chaos and so much sound. The audience went absolutely nuts for it, the front row was physically spilling over the railing as a spreading mosh pit grew to epic proportions. Hell, I had been at BlackDiamondSkye a few days before and the Deftones pit had nothing on this. If you could harness all the energy in that room you probably produce enough power to run a few city blocks.
The band kept it fresh too, with new track “Heavenward Grand Prix” thrown into the mix of such favorites as “The Boys are Leaving Town” and the soaring “Young Hearts Spark Fire”. One of the more fitting songs was “Darkness on the Edge of Gastown” which stood out not only in its lo-fi thrust but in its title. The Rickshaw is located at the edge of Vancouver’s touristy yet sketchy Gastown district, but the Japandroids were actually shining some light on that ever-present darkness.
Sadly, the Canucks lost their game in the shoot-out with the LA Kings, but it didn’t matter to anyone leaving the Japandroids show. Deaf, exhausted, and wasted, the crowd was too happily rocked out to care. Score one for the Japandroids.
Gallery by Karina Halle