The Pitt News

Japandroids rock Mr. Smalls

By John Lavanga

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As he caught his breath and slowly played out the last poignant notes of “Evil’s Sway,” Japandroids guitarist Brian King looked out into the sweaty, clamoring crowd with a smirk and leaned toward his microphone.

“Guess we shouldn’t have waited three years to come back, eh Pittsburgh?”

With cheers and laughs, the crowd at Mr. Small’s Theatre in Millvale — already battered and exhausted but nowhere near ready to slow down — concurred. For many, this was the show they’d been waiting months for. Others had been waiting for almost three years since Japandroids had last taken the stage at Mr. Small’s with The Walkmen. 

Since the band’s 2009 breakthrough album, Post-Nothing, the band has developed a reputation for raucous, spirited performances full of jovial thrashing and beer-soaked anthem singing. On Sunday night, Japandroids came through again with a show that will certainly tide fans over until the band’s next stop in town.

With only two albums of about eight songs each, the band didn’t have to worry about overstaying its welcome. Japandroids wasted no time cutting to the fan favorites from its newest album, Celebration Rock, opening with “Adrenaline Nightshift” and moving on to “Fire’s Highway” only a few songs later, much to the surprise and excitement of the crazed fans, who alternately shoved for the coveted front row while shouting memorable verses with complete strangers.

But when the band’s deeper cuts, such as “Heart Sweats,” received the same overjoyed reactions and full-force sing-alongs from the packed crowd, it became apparent that this wasn’t just another indie act playing to just another indie crowd. They had clearly internalized the line, “You can keep tomorrow, after tonight we’re not gonna need it.” 

These were the die-hard fans who, having resigned themselves to a Monday morning of mysterious bruises and exhaustion, had come to savor every moment they could spend with the band.

The band’s performance was just as full of vitality as the reactions of the crowd. In a wise move, the band avoided falling victim to the venue’s notoriously inconsistent sound quality by conducting its own sound check minutes before opening. Then, sipping full glasses of Jack Daniel’s and bottles of Yuengling, band members brought a manic fury to their performance. Those close enough to catch a glimpse could see that both King and drummer David Prowse were just as sweat-soaked and exhausted by the pace as anyone in the mosh pit.

As they tore through their set list without pausing, the breaks the band did take only exemplified the duo’s good nature and intensity. Both looking as though they had stepped directly out of their publicity photo, King was laser-focused on his performance while Prowse was unassuming and kindly, jawing casually with the front row, laughing at jokes and nodding at compliments and encouragement.

When the band closed with “For the Love of Ivy,” King stood on Prowse’s drum set as they played every note with an incomparable level of passion, getting the crowd roaring one last time before abruptly ending their set. The venue cleared quickly. The band and the crowd left it all on the floor of Mr. Small’s and were off to deal with the gloriously painful tomorrow they were able to put off for one more day.

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Japandroids rock Mr. Smalls