The rise of the machines
JAPANDROIDS / 4 OR 5 MAGICIANS / WILLIAM, LONDON MADAME JOJO'S, 27TH OCTOBER 2009
Tell someone you're off to Madame Jojo's in Soho for the night and they'd be forgiven for thinking you'll be spending the evening naked and face down on a plastic-sheeted bed while a 50-something-year-old wench who looks like EastEnders' Mo Slater dressed up like Catwoman, with dinner lady arms and a fag hanging out of the corner of her mouth, slaps listlessly at your arse with a tawse for £20 an hour.
They'd be wrong, of course.
Madame Jojo's, on Brewer Street, may be surrounded by so many sex shops that its facade is bathed in a reflective neon glow, but it's actually a club, a gaudy underground lair much like the Rock Garden in Covent Garden which is far more kitsch and glitzy than seedy. Tonight, like every Tuesday, is a White Heat night. And tonight, unlike every Tuesday, all the bar staff (and some of the punters - not I nor Del, though, I should add) are in fancy dress and doused in fake blood. Something to do with Halloween, I presume.
William may sound like a bouffanted posho who's just stumbled in the wrong door and down the wrong stairs in search of somewhere to watch the rugger, but actually they're a ragged indie-rock combo beloved of XFM's John Kennedy who are among those Johnny Foreigner call "family", who have a split 7" with Calories lined up for release in the new year and whose debut album Self In Fiction features a track called 'Whoreditch' (woah - the knives are out!).
Think the Wedding Present, think the Strokes, think the Pixies - and then let your mind go blank, because William aren't as good as any of them. Their songs are largely unexceptional and often rather shapeless, 'South Of The Border' probably being as good as it gets.
Hey hey they're the Arctic Monkees, they like monkeeing around! Well, maybe not - Dan Ormsby of Brighton tykes 4 Or 5 Magicians may sing-talk his lines in a way that is pure Alex Turner, but tonight at least the lyrics aren't clear enough to judge whether he's as adept a wordsmith as the Steel City's Poet Laureate.
Simon of top-notch music blog Sweeping The Nation is so fond of them that he's decided endorsements on his site aren't enough and is actually putting them on in Leicester, while debut album Empty Derivative Pop Songs, out on Smalltown America, has garnered an impressive array of critical plaudits. A joke it may be, but it's certainly a very brave title - a little foolhardy, perhaps, as for me personally it has a ring of truth to it.
'Nice Little Earner' has hooks and melody but nothing much you couldn't find elsewhere, and there's none of the serrated edge you might expect from a band with their particular self-professed catalogue of US alternative rock idols. Not much magic either, disappointingly. What's more (and this is probably a sign of age), both Del and I instantly bristle at one track's insinuation that listening to Radio 4 is a crime. For that, sirs, I hereby sentence you to an eternity of being subjected to The Archers...
What Japandroids aren't: Japanese (they're Canadian) or droids (they're humans). What they are: an absolute fucking blast.
As a set-opener, 'The Boys Are Leaving Town' is perfect. The boys have indeed left town (you could say that two of Vancouver's 'droids are missing) and are a long way from home - this is the duo's first ever gig outside North America, and the beginning of a four-night residency in London which includes appearances at Rough Trade and in Hoxton. And what an introduction it is.
Guitarist/vocalist Brian King and drummer/vocalist David Prowse (no, not Darth Vader - though perhaps he could wear the outfit on stage?) list their influences as the Sonics, Mclusky and "your sister". If No Age reinvigorated punk rock in 2008 by cross-breeding it with My Bloody Valentine's Loveless, then this year Japandroids have stripped it down, roughed it up and smacked it out. The name of their album, Post-Nothing, says it all - this music brooks no journo's micro-classification, it spits in the face of those who would label and analyse, it renders any attempt to intellectualise it utterly futile. It just is. And it just rocks. (Their previous EP, incidentally, was christened Lullaby Death Jams.)
If you could take the one lyric that most succinctly sums up their raison d'etre, it would probably be from 'Young Hearts Spark Fire', the high point of both the album and tonight's gig: "I don't wanna worry about dying / I just wanna worry about the sunshine girls". Hedonism as a credo. Living in the moment. Fucking the future.
King leaps on his guitar case. He puts his foot up on the bass drum. He says dorky things between songs like "Can I get more English girls in my monitor?" and "I wanna go see Abbey Road - would anyone take us?". And he grins - as does Prowse. And as do we, from ear to ringing ear.