Guitar Wolf returns to planet U.S.A. on the Hoochie Coochie Space Men Tour
By Captain America
Hearing Japan’s take on American pop music is like looking into a fun house mirror—but, like the mirror of Snow White’s wicked queen, the view reveals naked truth. Style and convention is swallowed whole and digested in roiling gastric juices. Magnified, amplified and disgorged in rainbow colors, its vital essence is not only intact but accentuated. Consider the hyper-pop of Puffy AmiYumi, the agitated and beautiful noise of Melt Banana, or the devastating wail of the unrestrained KING BROTHERS.
For my money, there is no American-inspired Japanese rock and roll vision purer than that of Guitar Wolf, formed in 1987. Control is surrendered the moment the trio hits the stage. Frenzied and frenetic, it’s awash in feedback and Budweiser, drenched in sweat and secretions. Guitar strings pop like bottle rockets and instruments go out of tune but the band doesn’t—won’t—pause.
The Guitar Wolf himself, Seiji, hammers his guitar into submission with Chuck Berry-meets-Joan Jett licks. He garners most of the attention, but Guitar Wolf is a band. Toru—Drum Wolf—drives the band relentlessly. “New” member (since 2005) U.G. capably took over after the untimely death of Billy, the original Bass Wolf.
Seiji’s harried vocals are mostly unintelligible not so much because of his accent, but because there’s no time to waste, and there’s nothing wrong with that. I mean, who can understand what the hell The Kingsmen were saying in “Louie Louie”? This is the germ of Guitar Wolf: the enthusiasm of kids knocking out songs in garages coupled with a punk disregard for flawless musicality. To be sure, the trio presents a “show,” but at its base is the pure love of rock and roll when rock and roll used to be dangerous. Among the band’s antics is this crowd favorite: Someone is randomly pulled from the audience and Seiji hands over his guitar for one song.
Seiji is most well known to a generation raised on anime for his cameo (wearing a leather jacket signed by his hero, Joan Jett) during the intro to “The Teen Titans.” It’s no surprise that this title sequence, and song by Puffy AmiYumi, is the best part of that cartoon show. Returning the favor, Puffy (as the duo is known in Japan) covered one of Guitar Wolf’s best-known tunes “Can Nana Fever” in 2009. This illustrates a Japanese aesthetic, one that Americans are loathe to admit: All forms of pop music and culture are related. They feed one another with no need for subdividing and exclusion by genre or style.
This is the first Guitar Wolf show in Albuquerque for almost a decade. Greet the trio back with a hearty “Okaerinasai! ” and look at yourself and your musical heritage reflected in the mirror of Guitar Wolf’s sunglasses.
Also on the Bill ...
Supporting the Wolf on Wednesday: our own madmen of garage rock The Scrams. Why is it 40 percent of the shows I choose to preview have this band on the bill? Nepotism? Coincidence? Naw! These guys merely have good taste in trash and roll. I would die a happy man if Seiji handed Scramsman Kenta Henmi his guitar for a solo spot. So would Kenta.
Also on tour are Nashville, Tenn. raw power pop heroes Cheap Time, highly recommended by none other than the late Jay Reatard.