Sunday, September 4, 2016

Language Lessons with Guitar Wolf

DOWN AT THE ROCK & ROLL CLUB—Guitar Wolf bludgeoned the crowd at Beat Kitchen last night, hitting the stage wearing Godzilla masks and departing after an hour and a half of ear-ringing mania, assisted by handlers to the dressing room as if they were walking wounded. (One aspect of Beat Kitchen I love: bands need to walk through the crowd to approach and to leave the stage, like ballplayers had to do after games at the old Polo Grounds, reaching the clubhouse in center field.) This was my first time seeing "Japanese Greatest Jet Rock Rock & Roll Band," and I was staggered by their stamina and commitment to intensely-played garage punk; they never let up the roar, and that they do this every night, and have been since 1987, is pretty remarkable. If you were new to their sound, you'd maybe recognize a pummeled version of "Summertime Blues," and cocking your ear to guitarist and singer Seji you'd hear, behind his Ultra Man shades, a garbled reference to Lake Michigan and, I think, broken hearts. He smiles often, but at what? It's hard to know, exactly, and the feeling that Seji, bassist U.G., and drummer Toru are in on the sinister joke and a half step ahead of the crowd contributes to the excitement in the room. Really the only words you have to understand are "one," "two," "three," "four," "rock," and "roll." Though Guitar Wolf's two- and three-chord songs are minimal and fiercely attacked, they shape-shift onstage, from frantically played one-minute bursts to extended and brutal lo-fi jams, giving Seji the space and time to prowl the stage, douse himself with restorative beer and bottled water, and bait the crowd. (I wonder what a Guitar Wolf rehearsal sounds like.) The highlight of the show began with an intensely earnest, and hilarious, thumb war among Seji and a few up front; the winner jumped onstage and, taking over Seji's guitar, shred deliriously while a grinning Seji screamed commands at him. At one point, it felt as if some sort of sacrifice might occur, and I wondered if the guy knew what he was in for. The mosh pit up front was roiling. Later I spied the drummer Toru leaning on his hi-hat, exhausted, but the band was astonishingly tight and on point all night, navigating between eighth-note thrashing and showy, James Brown-like stops. It was maybe a bit much; I don't know that Guitar Wolf's set would've suffered by being trimmed a half hour or so. The last third of the set felt sadistic. They won! We surrender!

My favorite moment of the night occurred during opener Hans Condor's set. A terrific power trio hailing from Nashville, their riffing lo-fi arena rock had the crowd moving, and guitarist and singer Chazz Kaster, who looks a bit like a teen going as David Crosby for Halloween, wasn't afraid to leap from the stage and witness first hand what his band had detonated. At one point during a break down he mock-heroically surveyed the crowd, eventually pointing at a guy who was summarily given Kaster's guitar to play on the floor. At first he simply, sheepishly, held on to the Ibanez, but Kaster was having none of this. "You won the guitar! Play it! PLAY IT!!" he screamed. After a few bars of good-humored thrashing, the mood turned a bit dramatic as Kaster made a motion for the front of the crowd to clear out; he pointed to the guy and shouted "Ready? On four!" It felt as if no one, least of all the dude on the floor, knew what was happening, or what was meant to happen. Kaster counted to four and took a running leap from the stage as the guy threw the guitar in the air; Kaster caught it in mid-air and landed on his knees, shredding wildly, not missing a note. It was hilarious, awesome, and felt utterly unpredictable—if it's shtick, I don't care. It was a fantastic rock and roll moment. I hope they try it again tonight. And I hope it lands.

Hans Condor at Beat Kitchen. Photo by

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