Album review: Japandroids – Massey Fucking Hall (2020, Arts & Crafts)

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Back in the day when music fans could still attend live concerts beyond the ones put on by country singers you’ve never heard of with made up sounding names, Vancouver duo Japandroids became famous for their particular brand of loud, sweaty rock shows – shows which are now quite unimaginable in our current situation. So it comes as a welcome reminder of the power of their live shows that the band have recently released a live album documenting their appearance at Toronto’s legendary Massey Hall … or rather, it would have if the album were truly able to replicate the feel of a Japandroids show on record.

Massey Fucking Hall documents Japandroids’ appearance on the Massey Hall stage back in October of 2017 (the bulk of which is also featured in a Live at Massey Hall video that’s up on YouTube if you’d rather watch it than just listen to it). To their credit, it sounds good and the band is in fine form, but for a band whose live shows have the feel of a massive communal celebration for the fans, it’s impossible for a recording to even come close to that. On the plus side, this also means that there’s zero chance of being jostled about by the more bro-ish contingent of their fanbase, although the chances of that happening in a seated venue like Massey were already pretty slim.

While songs like “No Known Drink or Drug” and “Young Hearts Spark Fire” stand out as energetic highlights, the whole thing ultimately feels a bit sterile, though maybe it’s the venue itself that diminishes the vibe somewhat. After all, it would be difficult to come close to that feeling in a seated venue like Massey Hall. The band even acknowledges this on the album when Brian King makes a comment near the end about the people standing up front making it seem more like “a normal Japandroids show.”

Maybe I’m being too hard on the band because I’m missing live music and this is really only kind of like that. Or maybe I just don’t like live albums. No that can’t be true – after all, without live albums, we’d never have the magic of Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison, Rust Never Sleeps, Cheap Trick at Budokan and of course, that compilation of Paul Stanley’s stage banter (it counts as a live album in my books). Maybe if Japandroids followed Stanley’s lead and let out a few extremely high pitched exclamations of “How you doin’ Toronto!!?” or made punny references to their song titles before playing each song, I’d cut them a bit more slack, but alas, they have not done any of that.

Frankly, there isn’t a live album that can truly capture the feeling of being there, but I suppose the ones that do it right can remind us of the power of seeing a band in person. While Massey Fucking Hall may fall a bit short in that regard, it’s still a solid document of the band that will likely appeal to the die-hard fans. For the rest of us? Well, there’s always the hope that live shows might be a thing again by next year …

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Posted on by Paul in Albums

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