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Japandroids Photo Credit John Ordean
Nine Songs
Japandroids

The Canadian powerhouses talk Joe Goggins through their favourite live recordings, as they mark the release of their own, Massey Fucking Hall

24 July 2020, 07:00 | Words by Joe Goggins

“It’s not something I’m ever going to take for granted again.”

Dave Prowse is talking about live music, as he prepares to put out a live album. “The irony is not lost on me that this is happening at a time when I can’t play or even go to a live show.”

Japandroids did not intend for their first live record to arrive in the thick of a pandemic that has shuttered venues worldwide for the foreseeable future, but here we are. Massey Fucking Hall landed on streaming services in late June, with COVID-19 yet to retreat and with social distancing ensuring that large-scale gatherings remain on ice indefinitely.

Depending on your disposition, you could see the release as either a soothing balm or salt in the wound. The typical Japandroids show encompasses most of what makes live music so thrilling, and they were on particularly scintillating form that night in Toronto, playing their native Canada’s most famous venue for the first time as they toured in support of Near to the Wild Heart of Life.

For drummer Prowse and singer-guitarist Brian King, it’s probably a bit of both, a stinging reminder of what we’ve lost to the pandemic, and a stirring testament to the communal power of rock and roll. “It really is such a unifying human experience,” says Prowse, “and we will get back there - it’s just a question of when, not if.”

To celebrate the power and exhuberance of live performance, over the course of two conversations, the duo chose nine formative live recordings, plotting out the route map that took them to Massey Fucking Hall.

“Can't Turn You Loose” by Otis Redding, from Live in Europe

Dave: "The general thread running through my four picks are that they’re all performances I’d have given anything to have experienced first hand.

"I was already a big Otis Redding fan when I first picked up Live in Europe, "Can’t Turn You Loose’" is the second track and he just flies out of the gates. The band is so hot, and the crowd is insane - you can tell he’s putting on a show. There’s two little moments I love. The first is when the song stops for a second, and he yells out, 'I know you think I’m gonna stop now - ain’t gon’ stop!'

"It’s like there’s a momentum that he literally can’t stop, the music’s carrying him away with it. And then, towards the end, when the band do that classic move of quietening down before they build things back up, you can really hear the room, and it sounds like every single person in the building is dancing and clapping along.

"That’s a driving force for why I love live music so much, as an artist and as an audience member; that feeling that you’re sharing this moment with everybody else in the place, everybody immersed in the feeling together. That’s something that this version of ‘Can’t Turn You Loose’ captures really powerfully."

“Come Together” by Spiritualized, from Royal Albert Hall October 10 1997

Dave: "I listened to this record a lot in college, my old roommate Robbie introduced me to it. It’s really like a pretty flawless greatest hits of the first half of the band’s career and like with the Otis Redding track, you get the sense you’re hearing an artist at the peak of their powers.

"I prefer this take on "Come Together" to the studio version. It’s so powerful, with the gospel choir, and the way it kicks up to double time and almost becomes a punk song. I’ve seen Spiritualized a ton of times and it’s always been a great show, but there seems to have been a specific magic to that performance.

"I’ve never been to the Royal Albert Hall, but I obviously know that it’s steeped in history. What’s incredible is that it genuinely feels like you’re listening to the best show they ever played, and it just so happened to be at the Royal Albert Hall, and they just so happened to be recording it."

“Lipstick Vogue” by Elvis Costello, from Live at the El Mocambo

Dave: "I was only ever a casual fan of Elvis Costello until my late twenties. I found a used copy of this album at a record store in Vancouver, and part of the reason I picked it up is because the El Mocambo is one of the first places that Japandroids played in Toronto. I believe this was one of the first shows he ever played in Canada; a crappy bootleg of it circulated for years, and they eventually decided to put it out properly.

"I’ve always loved "Lipstick Vogue" - it’s a really awesome drumming song, starting out with a solo into a marching beat - but this version of it is just absolutely manic. They play it crazy fast, all guns blazing, absolutely red hot. Right at the start, he calls out people sitting down in the audience - “These guys got the right idea, they’re standing up!” - and I just love the idea that he’s sneering at these stand-offish Canadians, and then launching into this intense rock and roll track.

"I mean, imagine it’s 1978 and some friend of yours says, “Hey, there’s this guy, Elvis Costello, he’s a big deal in the UK and he’s playing Toronto tonight.” You go down, maybe a little bit cynical, to see what he’s about, and bang! You’re there to witness this. Like ‘Can’t Turn You Loose’, the band do that thing of bringing it down before kicking into the last verse, and there’s some amazing call-and-response with the crowd. It’s just kind of a perfect rock performance."

“Let Me Clear My Throat” by DJ Kool

Dave: "I mentioned that these were all performances I wish I could have been there for, and the fact that they used a live recording of "Let Me Clear My Throat" for the actual single release, which went on to sell a million copies, tells you everything you need to know. The crowd is so fucking loud, and they’re as much a part of the song as anything else.

"I’ve listened to this thousands of times over the years, and it never fails to leave me feeling hyped afterwards. I love the way he’s totally energising the audience, and they’re completely immersed in this wild energy, but it’s totally celebratory - there’s no anger or aggression to it.

"It might sound absurd, because it’s a totally different genre, but that’s kind of what we aim for at every Japandroids gig. We play high tempo music to get people excited, and we’re always looking for that kinship with the crowd, where we’re all in this joyous, celebratory energy together. I really get the sense of that from "Let Me Clear My Throat". For me, it’s a masterclass in how to put on a show."

“Voodoo Child (Slight Return)” by Jimi Hendrix, from Hendrix in the West

Brian: "I wanted to start with a Hendrix song, because I think he was the first artist I was into where I realised that I actually liked the live versions of the songs more than the studio ones.

"This is probably my favourite song from Hendrix in the West, but really, I could have picked any live track of his. They just have something that the albums don’t, an insane energy, and that’s what planted the seed about live performance really early on. When you’re a kid, you don’t have any context for a live show. You haven’t been to a rock concert before, and you don’t know what it’s like to stand in a crowd. You don’t know what it’s like to feel that heat and that energy. You certainly don’t know what it is to have a few drinks.

"The whole thing was kind of foreign to me at that age, and those early Hendrix bootlegs just had a wow factor that never went away. The other day, listening to some of them for the first time in a while, I was thinking about how much they still have exactly the same power as when I first heard them. They opened up a real can of worms for me."

“White Light/White Heat (Version 1)” by The Velvet Underground, from The Complete Matrix Tapes

Brian: "The thing that’s unusual about the Velvets is that, for a band that influential and of that stature, they don’t really have a lot of live material out there. So when The Complete Matrix Tapes came out five years ago, it was a real treat. Four complete sets, start to finish, in really good quality, and they’re just such ripping versions of the songs.

"It was a chance to rediscover them, because like anybody else who loves them, I’d totally worn the studio albums out. I don’t think they get enough credit for how interesting they were as a live band; I hear so many different things going on. They’re playing around with the tempos, the arrangements, the instrumentation; it justifies putting out multiple versions on the same release, because no two are the same.

"I fell in love with them all over again when I got The Complete Matrix Tapes and this take on "White Light/White Heat" has this amazing frantic energy to it. The original isn’t even three minutes long, and yet they’ve stretched it out to nearly ten, and between the guitars and Lou’s vocals, it feels like the train might come off the tracks at any moment. It’s really thrilling - it’s really everything I want a live version of a song to be."

“From Her to Eternity” by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, from Live Seeds

Brian: "This record is really special to me, because the Bad Seeds are one of only a handful of bands I can think of where I got into them via a live record.

"When I first got to university, I had that experience that a lot of people have, which is that I was suddenly exposed to a ton of music, and that process of discovery becomes exponential - you find out about a band, and then if you dig them, you work backwards and check out all of their influences. That was the around the time that the internet and file sharing were taking off, so there was suddenly this world of music at your fingertips.

"When I first picked up on the Bad Seeds, they already had a pretty deep catalogue and I didn’t really know where to start. Live Seeds seemed to have a lot of the tracks I’d heard about, so I bought that one and that was my gateway. To be honest, as much as I like the studio versions, I just never quite heard them in the same way as I did with Live Seeds, and "From Her to Eternity" is a perfect example of that; there’s just that bit more tension, that bit more intensity.

"A few years ago, Dave and I covered "Jack the Ripper" for a B-side, and we chose to base it directly on the Live Seeds version, because that was closer to what we were trying to capture than the original from Henry's Dream."

“Days of Wine & Roses” by The Dream Syndicate, from Live at Raji’s

Brian: "There’s obviously a Japandroids connection to this one, although really, the influence on ‘The Nights of Wine and Roses’ doesn’t go beyond the title - that was just an idea that I latched onto, and that we used as a jumping-off point.

"I’ve chosen this one because I couldn’t really talk about my favourite live songs and not mention Live at Raji’s. I was listening to it a lot whilst we were making Celebration Rock, in particular. It has all of their ‘hits’ in one place. What I love about this track in particular is that there’s a breakdown in the centre of it, where [frontman] Steve Wynn starts ad-libbing.

"He’s singing a little bit of The Stooges, a little bit of Bo Diddley - just making all these little references to his heroes, and then the band ramp back up and hit you with the chorus one last time. It’s such a badass little moment. If you’ve ever noticed us do that at our own shows, now you know where I got the idea from! You can actually hear it on Massey Fucking Hall - I do a little bit of The Stooges’ "I Feel Alright" in the intro to ‘Heart Sweats’. It’s a nice little way to catch your breath when you’ve come off the back of hitting a couple of songs really hard. I owe that one to The Dream Syndicate."

“Fuckin’ Up” by Neil Young & Crazy Horse, from Weld

Brian: "My personal favourite Neil Young record is Ragged Glory, and Weld was recorded when he was out in support of that, so it’s basically all of the best songs from that album mixed in with a bunch of Crazy Horse classics - about as close to perfect as it gets, for me.

"They just really had it on that tour. I love how it sounds; the guitars are super heavy, but ultimately, it’s a really soulful record - there’s something in the way they’re playing. It might just be rock and roll lore, but allegedly, Neil blew out his hearing during the mixing of it, because he was blasting it so loud in the studio.

"He’s got so many classics, but "Fuckin’ Up" is maybe one of his lesser-known songs. People are always surprised when I tell them that Ragged Glory is my favourite. they haven’t always heard of it. So, if somebody gives "Fuckin’ Up" a try, and they dig it, they’re probably gonna dig Weld, and they’re probably gonna dig Ragged Glory.

"It’s just one of a bunch of all-time great live records of his, though. Including, funnily enough, Live at Massey Hall 1971!"

Massey Fucking Hall is available now digitally via ANTI-, with a physical release to follow on October 2nd
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