If you hurled all the rock and roll bands on the planet into one giant red-hot frying pan and broiled the whole shibang ’til all of the poseurs, wusses, and weaklings evaporated, only one band would remain standing, sneering, and pounding out riffs: Japan’s mighty Guitar Wolf.
No lie, pard’ner. This trio–guitarist/head screamer Seiji (Guitar Wolf), bassist U.G. (Bass Wolf), and drummer Toru (Drum Wolf)–generates the loudest, most knuckle-draggingly primal and insidiously catchy noise this side of the late great Ramones. We’re talking two-and-three chord garage rock, played with the kind of full-throttle, go-for-broke energy that only true believers can pull off. Don’t write Guitar Wolf off as a novelty act because they sing in Japanese and currently record for an indie label. This scruffy trio is the real deal.
They’re so loud that at least one of their CDs, 1998’s Jet Generation, comes with a warning that it will destroy certain types of stereo amplifiers if you play it. The guitars squeal like bandsaws grinding at sheet metal, the bass and drums rumble like Godzilla with indigestion, and the low-fi production makes your average Guitar Wolf CD sound like a giant monster battle being recorded on a cassette recorder by a scared little kid hiding from the carnage in a cardboard box. Miraculously, real riffs and tunes surface amidst the noise. And they look cooler than you or I ever will, puny mortals.
My intro to Guitar Wolf occurred, ironically enough, not in a smoky music venue, but at the Egyptian movie theater in Seattle, where a midnight screening of the trio’s starring vehicle Wild Zero blew the top of my head off. Wild Zero weds flesheating zombies, rock and roll, Sam Peckinpah-style action, and grade Z science fiction with un-self-conscious verve and fun. It’s the best polyglot B flick I’ve seen in ages, and the Wolf come off as the coolest bunch of miscreants-turned-world saviors who ever strapped on instruments and stepped in front of a camera (get thee to a DVD retailer and pick up the Synapse Films Disc, post haste).
And there is no better live band on the planet. The last time they played Seattle, at Capitol Hill’s Chop Suey in 2005, they pounded out a two-hour show of blistering energy. Seiji was drenched in sweat within the first seven minutes, and backed by the piledriving rhythm section of his bandmates, his energy never flagged. At one point the fire-extinguishment equipment went off, smothering the whole venue in white powder and smoke; and the band kept playing, without missing a beat.
They played South Lake Union club El Corazon last night, their first stop in Seattle in about six years. The band’s been through a lot lately: Their original bass player Billy died not too long after that 2005 gig, and the future of the band seemed in doubt. Happily, they regrouped with new bass player U.G. and released Spacebattleshiplove, another salvo of inimitable three-chord caveman stomp.
As they customarily do, the band pounded out a two-hour set peppered with old classics (‘Jet Generation’, ‘Roaring Blood’), covers (Link Wray’s ‘Rumble’, rejiggered in Guitar-Wolf style as ‘Rock and Roll Rumble’) and new tunes. They poured their guts out to the surging house, and Seiji hit all the rock-messiah sweet spots. The guy possesses so much hyperkinetic energy and looks so cool that he could be some anime version of a rock star–only one that sweats and screams like a wild animal being electrocuted.
Best of all, Guitar Wolf always share the rock-and-roll dream with their audience. Seiji maintained the Wolf tradition of inviting a fan onstage. The shaggy-maned kid who joined him pounded on Seiji’s guitar and gave the audience the bird, with copious Guitar Wolf coaching; and the first of the three (!) encores came to a head with fans forming a human pyramid as Seiji clambored atop them and shouted out the rock gospel to the heavens in broken English. It was, simply put, total turbocharged rock and roll evangelism, and everyone was invited to testify.