I’m still hearing about how, a few years back, I declared the Leonard Cohen concert the best gig I’d ever seen. I already know this. I wrote it. I called it the best concert I would ever see. Hey, a bit of hyperbole never hurt anyone right? (Except for the writer of the hyperbole).
I knew what I was doing with that Cohen review; at least I thought I did. He then returned a year later and played almost the same show and that made my comments about the show being so special instantly redundant. Oh well. It was worth a shot. And I don’t regret it. That night – that first show – was something special. I felt it. And I know I wasn’t alone. That was an audience that was moved by the experience of seeing that show. Hey and of course there would have been a few people there baffled by my review or by the response – they might not have liked what they thought of as the soft-porn musical backing, they might not have enjoyed Cohen enjoying himself, serving up his hits, relishing his three hours to strut and fret on stage.
So with that as my best gig experience – and obviously in a dozen or so years of reviewing and several years of being a keen concert attendee before I ever picked up the pen to stab at the heart of any artists, I’ve seen plenty of “best ever” shows; had plenty of “best gig ever” moments.
But what is the worst? What’s the absolute bottom? The nadir?
Oh I’ve seen some terrible things with music and live performance. I’ve seen comedians bomb, I’ve seen bands that are not to my taste, I’ve seen bands that just don’t cut it on the night and ones that have got it all wrong.
But I’ve never seen anything quite so bad – from an international act – as what I saw when I tried to watch Japandroids.
I don’t usually mention that I leave gigs early, it’s best not to. There’s a lot of idealistic review readers out there, convinced that I must stay to the end, that it’s my job to be there when the floor’s being swept for broken glass and combed over for spare change. But actually I often leave gigs before the end, I have to. There’s a reason the review makes the paper the next day – and it’s because I have to meet a deadline. I don’t miss much – sometimes the encore, or half the encore. Often it’s one song only. Sometimes it’s a little more. If I’m seeing an act for the second or third time and it’s playing out in much the same way as it has before I might split. Some nights I’m required to write about more than one show, to almost be in two places at once.
I don’t think I’ve ever previously mentioned in a review that I left early.
But I happily mentioned that I walked from Japandroids early – because that had to be part of the statement. That had to be part of the point of declaring it the worst show ever. I had no deadline that night (it was a Friday night gig, the review was to be filed over the weekend). But I could not stick around.
You see these guys were not capable of providing me with what I expect from a gig. All I ever ask for is music. Sure, I’d like it to be good. I’d like to like it. That’s actually what I want. Always. I don’t go to gigs to hope they’re bad, I’m out of the house and I’m always hopeful that it will be worth it even if it’s often not. The aim, always, is to enjoy rather than endure. But I’m signed up for both/either.
These guys were almost comically bad. This whole drummer/guitar-player duo shtick has got to go. Sure, there are some people who can do it. Yes. I still reckon Tony Joe White has this format nailed. Back when The Black Keys were good they had it going on. But somewhere along the lines a bunch of people who are not good enough to cover for the absence of the bottom end, who are not good enough as musicians, have become convinced that they can highlight their ineptitude through this format. Or they simply figure that what was Jack White’s stylistic choice can be their cost-cutting measure. I don’t quite know what the reason is for the drum/guitar duo format but after Friday’s (half) gig I’m calling time on these half-bands.
Japandroids offered nothing but excruciating noise. And not in the way that works – such as Lightning Bolt (now there’s a band to see! Or see again as it were).
It was as if Japandroids forgot to pack the tunes. You could imagine them going through Customs. When asked if they had anything to declare they might have been best to admit that they didn’t pack a single song. Groan at that all you like, just as I’ll groan at the fans of this band thinking they’d surely have nothing to declare but their genius.
It was empty-gesture music. And that’s what got me. I don’t mind that a bunch of people enjoyed it. Fill your boots. But I can’t write up a review that merely says this was not to my taste. That’s boring. That’s safe. That’s too simple. I was affronted by this ghastly cacophony because so very little thought appeared to have gone into it. There were people convinced the guy was a good drummer because he was fast. There were people gushing about how this band had energy. Big deal. Any band should have energy – it’s what propels them.
I was affronted because they hype had suggested this band was some second-coming of rock music; some must-see live experience. People were suggesting Stooges and Black Keys and, er, White Stripes and, well, all the usual sorts of garage-rock/indie touchstones. When actually it sounded more like Jimmy Eat World than anything. You know: awful.
Or as I said in my review – like half of Blink 182. But worse. Much, much worse.
I’ve walked from plenty of shows. I’ve even walked out in mild disgust before. And it’ll happen again. No doubt. But this – for now, hopefully for all time – was the worst. This was different. I felt ripped off. I felt like I deserved a refund on my ticket. Bear in mind I did not pay. That’s bad.
Someone out there owes me $50. And I reckon the two guys masquerading as musicians and calling themselves Japandroids should probably split it and give me $25 each.
Good lord it was awful.
The worst international act I’ve seen. They had nothing. Nothing.
It Was The Worst started life as a series of posts on the Phantom Billstickers Facebook page