japanther.JPG
Japanther: scrappy, scuzzy.

Japandroids

Monday, June 11th, 2012

Neumos

Japanther

Tuesday, June 12th, 2012

The Rendezvous Jewelbox Theater

This week, Japanther and Japandroids are more

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Japanther vs. Japandroids: Who's the Best Inspirational Rock Duo With The Wack Japan Portmanteau For a Name? (No Japancakes)

japanther.JPG
Japanther: scrappy, scuzzy.

Japandroids

Monday, June 11th, 2012

Neumos

Japanther

Tuesday, June 12th, 2012

The Rendezvous Jewelbox Theater

This week, Japanther and Japandroids are more or less racing each other down the West Coast, with kick-off shows in Seattle last night and the night before, respectively. Obviously, I wouldn't be a hacky music critic or a dork that likes puns (same thing) if I didn't go to both shows for the purposes of head-to-head comparison. Beyond the tour routes and the obviously similar names, the two bands have some other things in common--both are duos, both write inspirational anthems--but they also have some differences: Japandroids are drums and guitar while Japanther are drums and bass, Japanther are scuzzy and lo-fi while Japandroids are (relatively) slick and professional, Japandroids played to a packed-out Neumos (~600 people?) while Japanther played to a reasonably crowded Rendezvous (75? 100?). Then there's my personal familiarity with each: I went into Japandroids knowing about two songs and having seen them play maybe half a set before, whereas I've heard maybe every Japanther album, love a lot of their songs, and have seen them play at least a dozen times over the years. And I thought for sure I knew which of these shows was gonna come out on top in the contest here, but they surprised me. (Japancakes were not asked for comment.)

So, let's get to the stats...

Best Song

Maybe this is cause I'm not a hardcore Japandroids fan, but I'm gonna say their best song by a mile right now is new one "The House that Heaven Built." It's got the same broad guitars and flaring lead riffs, charging drums, and dual vocals as a lot of their songs, but it's distinguished by some killer lyrics and that outstanding sing-along echo in the chorus. It's a nostalgic love song either to a house or a person or a time in one's life, or possibly all three, and its sentiment is a weird blend of triumph and bittersweet. On the chorus, guitarist/vocalist Brian King and drummer/vocalist David Prowse sing, "When they love you, and they will (and they will!)/tell 'em all they'll love in my shadow." It is an epic, hopeless diss to expect an ex--whether a house or a her--to relate to its nexts, and I love it. Japanther it's hard for me to pick, there's so many, but let's just say "Change Your Life," which exhibits a lot of the duo's best traits--a catchy, kinda chintzy hook, a motivational message counter-intuitively couched in a little bit of melancholy or hopelessness--and which has lately been among a list of my favorite motivational songs. This might change tomorrow, but for now...

Advantage: Japandroids

Best Sing-Along

Aforementioned "and they will!" aside, Japanther (drummer/vocalist Ian Vanek and bassist/vocalist Matt Reily) do have Japandroids handily beat in both number and quality of sing-along songs. Almost every other song they did for a minute there had some big "whoah-ohh"-ing chorus or else a couple crucial, repeated lines that were easy enough to pick up even as a song went on for the first time you heard it. Search the just-mentioned "Change Your Life," "Evil Earth," "Midtown," "1-10," "The Gravy," "Selfish Kids," "Critical Circles," or on and on. Do it.

Advantage: Japanther

Best Sound

Both bands bring their own pretty impressive amp setups--four bass/guitar amps for Japanther, plus their own vocal PA and telephone mics; one bass amp and four guitar amps for Japandroids--but while Japanther's looks (and sounds) beat-up and broke-down and cobbled together, Japanroids' just pummels. Even standing in the back of Neumos, I had to wear earplugs. My buddy's boyfriend, also standing in the back with plugs in, had to leave after just a handful of songs. If it's tempting to compare these duos to No Age and Lightning Bolt, you gotta give it to Japanther for scuzzy tone and vibe but Japandroids for best aping (maybe just besting) Lightning Bolt's legendary volume, albeit with a guitar sound so clean you could eat off it.

Advantage: Japandroids

Best Banter

Japanther have in the past pulled off some good weirdo between song sermonizing, but last night they were all mumbles and false starts and Ian drumming non-stop between songs and even before their set. Japandroids were, by comparison, fucking VH1 Storytellers. They had a bit about playing Seattle as second and second-to-last shows of their Vancouver-originating tours, and how that means Seattle gets them either rusty or exhausted, but how this time they'd just flown over from Europe and were in their prime mid-tour groove. They had a story about driving down to Neumos two months ago to watch Hot Snakes, the moral being that they pilgrim to shows and stand in the crowd like everyone else ("I guess what I'm trying to say is we're no different than you, so don't think that we are"). They had banter with the crowd about turning up their volume, knowing the words to their songs before they were out, etc. I'm a fan of punk blase as much as I am of professionalism, but if you were looking for the latter, these guys had it--and without seeming cheesy or like any less genuine dudes.

Advantage: Japandroids

Best Moshing

Japandroids had what I'm sure was a raucous pit, and they had so many crowd-surfers that at one point people were actually queued up on stage waiting for room to clear so they could stage-dive, but it was too crowded for my lazy, old ass to get up to the front. At Japanther, front row pit spots were easily acquired, and once they broke into a run of about a half dozen older anthems mid-late set, the Jewelbox Theater went off: pogo-ing, people leaning all over each other in sweaty solidarity, goofy footwork, singing along, even a couple stage-dives. And a mosh pit you're not part of is basically worthless as a mosh pit, so...

Advantage: Japanther

Best Portmanteau

It's French for mash-up, and we're gonna do this objectively: Japandroids only has two letters of overlap between its words (Japandroids); Japanther has three (Japanther). This might seem like a negligible difference, but when you inevitably start making up your own dumb Japanteaus (terrible), you'll notice it's a lot easier to attach Japan to any word with an "an" in it than it is to find one with a "pan" to use.

Advantage: Japanther

Best DIY Punk Cred

Japanther have been playing seemingly every house show, basement, and YMCA that would have them in Seattle for years (their Punkin House gigs are a personal best here), but Japandroids took the time out of their big Neumos show Monday to reminisce about the first time they ever played Seattle, right around the corner at the now defunct DIY space Healthy Times Fun Club (RIP), an almost empty show, they said, played only to the people who were putting it on, more or less. So I'll call this one...

Advantage: Tie

That's an even split, and I had a different kind of blast at both shows, but there is something that just barely tips the scales in Japandroids' favor, and that's that it's more fun to be a new fan than an old one. At Japanther, I had to bum out about how their last couple albums of increasingly Ramones-y pop punk don't hold up to what I consider their best material, a run from 2003-2007 that--oh, weird!--also just happened to coincide with me seeing them for the first time and at all those awesome house shows. At Japandroids, I had the rush, along with a few other hundred people, of hearing "The House That Heaven Built" and "Younger Us" live for the first time. Hard to beat that.

 
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