Live Review: Guitar Wolf at Meow, Wellington

Guitar Wolf Meow - Will Not Fade
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Guitar Wolf

w/ Huge Mutant

Meow, Wellington

Friday 24 November 2017

I feel that I need to explain my choice of attire.

Yesterday I posted on Instagram about how I was so excited for the Guitar Wolf gig at Meow tonight, and that I was planning on wearing my finest Hawaiian shirt. Someone from the band Hiboux commented, asking if this was a thing.

In short: no. But there is a weird rationale behind my decision.

You see, this is my third time seeing Guitar Wolf live. The first time was at Bodega. It was the night after seeing Foo Fighters at Western Springs in Auckland – at the time easily the best live act I’d seen. And as amazing as the large-scale Foo Fighters concert was, Guitar Wolf came damned close to topping them in terms of putting on a phenomenal live music experience.

One of the highlights of that night was when the singer pulled me up on stage to join a human pyramid. Another was when he pulled up a guy with a large beard and Hawaiian shirt. He handed his guitar to our lumberjack-looking friend, compelled him to “feel the rock” and instructed him to strum out.

The second time I saw Guitar Wolf was at Mighty Mighty – another defunct Wellington venue. And lo and behold, the same guy – wearing the same Hawaiian shirt and rocking the same awesome beard – was pulled onstage to feel the rock and play guitar. This second time I figured out that he was selected because he won a thumb wrestle.

I vowed to myself that next time, I would like to win the thumb wrestle and transform into a rock god onstage, under tutelage from Japan’s finest. And just to somehow enhance my odds, I decided to dress the same as the lumberjack dude. My thought process doesn’t make much sense, but oh well.


I’m lucky I even made it to the gig. After a long week at work I was knackered. I work as a preschool teacher, and the combination of heat, hay fever and loud children had given me a severe headache. I decided to have a short nap when I got home.

Turns out I needed that nap more than I’d realised. I woke up at 10pm – four hours later! I quickly threw on the all-important Hawaiian shirt and raced down to Meow. I’d missed the opening acts, but thankfully got to the gig in time for the main act.

And what a beautiful sight it was. Three grown men onstage wearing leather jackets and velociraptor masks. The guitarist cracked a can of beer open and emptied it into the mouth of the dinosaur.

Guitar Wolf Meow photo by Kay

Image: Kay Hoddy

After a short intro track the trio ditched their dino masks. Seiji led the trio on vocals and guitar. He wore wraparound sunglasses and was dripping with sweat for most of the set. Half of the appeal of Guitar Wolf is their energy, and Seiji injects so much of his personality into the show – making exaggerated expressions and motions as he plays. Toru kept the beat on drums, and frantically combed his hair back – rockabilly style – between songs. They also had a new bass player – Hikaru. I remember previous bassist, U.G. had taken to his bass guitar with a saw, cutting off the bottom portion that he didn’t need, seeing as he only played three strings. Hikaru was great, energetically flicking his hair around, and supporting on vocals.

Guitar Wolf are not for everyone. They take cues from punk, rock, rockabilly and garage to create their unique “jet rock n’ roll” – think Japanese Ramones. They’re ear-splittingly loud, with plenty of feedback and distortion. And they’re fast too. OK, so they’re not the tightest act out, but why let technical ability get in the way of a good show?

Seiji had good banter – or at least from what I could understand. He made a shout out “my cousin, Prime Minister of New Zealand” during their cover of “Summertime Blues”. He asked if we had boyfriends/girlfriends/both, before teaching us how to love. He also asked the crowd what the highest mountain in New Zealand is, which had him stumped when he couldn’t understand the name Aoraki.

Guitar Wolf Meow photo by Kay Hoddy

The pick of destiny. Image: Kay Hoddy

If you can’t tell yet, the show was great. I had the best time.

Like, literally.

BECAUSE THE HAWAIIAN SHIRT WORKED!!!

Ok, so maybe it wasn’t the shirt. But I accomplished my goal.

As soon as Seiji removed his guitar strap I knew my time had come. He thrust his arm out into the crowd and I raced forward to grab his hand. He didn’t thumb wrestle me as I’d expected, but I clung on hard, trying to gain favour with him.

Seiji pulled me onstage, gave me his guitar, turning a knob so that the volume maxed out, squealing with feedback. Then he placed a guitar pick in my hand, raising it high above me head in a classic rock star stance. He shouted instructions my ear. To be honest I can’t even remember what he said – I was on such a buzz – but the gist is that I had to rock out.

I began strumming in time with the band. I’m not a guitarist and had no idea about chords, so I just played open, with my hand resting lightly on the strings on the neck to prevent too much feedback. My apologies to those who attended and had to put up with the cacophony I cause.

Seiji instructed me as I played. I don’t know if I understood correctly, but he guided me to wait, before strumming when he cued me. The next challenge was to jump in time with the band as we played. They all crouched down and I followed their lead, unsure of my role.

Image: Kay Hoddy

I have no idea how long I was on stage, but I was having the time of my life. I had bloody fingers and knuckles from the sharp guitar strings, but I didn’t care – it was worth it. At one point I noticed that one of the guitar strings had broken, and I wondered if I had done that, or had Seiji broken it earlier?

To finish, Seiji held me and pulled me down to the floor of the stage, removing the guitar from me. A man at the front of the crowd grabbed my legs and hoisted me up, and next thing I know, I was crowd surfing. It was unnerving, but I felt supported and nobody dropped me.

Guitar Wolf Meow photo by Kay Hoddy

Image: Kay Hoddy

The rest of the set was great. People congratulated me on my newfound rock god status. Guitar Wolf kept playing their furious music. It was fun.

They left the stage, before coming on with an encore of a few more songs, and Seiji wrapped up with a second, solo encore.

Guitar Wolf prove that a rock show needs to be exactly that – a show! They have the look, the attitude, and the energy – as well as the music. If you get the chance to see Guitar Wolf in action, do it! Just don’t forget your earplugs!

Rock and roll!


Guitar Wolf have three more dates in New Zealand:

Saturday 25th November, Whammy Bar, Auckland
Sunday 26th November, Kewpie Party Boat, Tauranga
Monday 27th November, Secret Show, West Auckland

Tickets at Undertheradar: http://www.undertheradar.co.nz/tour/7227/Guitar-Wolf-New-Zealand-Tour.utr

 

Words by Joseph James

Photos by Kay Hoddy (https://twitter.com/KayInNewZealand#)

Live Review: Frank Turner at Commodore Ballroom, Vancouver

Frank Turner Vancouver Commodore Ballroom
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Frank Turner & The Sleeping Souls (show #2101)

w/ Band of Rascals and Trapper Schoepp

Commodore Ballroom, Vancouver

Wednesday 13 September 2017

Frank Turner is in the middle of touring around America at the moment as a support act for Jason Isbell. But never one to disappoint fans, he stopped off in Vancouver for a standalone headline show to cater to his Canadian fanbase.

“We’re here in Vancouver for 15 hours, just to play for you lot!” he shouted, “This morning I was tired and hungover and was not in the mood to chat to Canadian border guards… but we’re here now!”

Band of Rascals

The local act Band of Rascals played a great opening set of blistering rock music with an edge of country. They threw themselves about of stage with abandon, yet retained enough control to stay tight and sang great harmonies. A few songs entered into ballad territory, reminding me of Stu Larsen during on softer part.

Trapper Schoepp

Second up was Trapper Schoepp, also signed to Xtra Mile, the same label as Turner. Just one kid with a guitar, a large mop of hair, and one hell of a voice. He played a bunch of songs from his latest EP, Bay Beach Amusement Park, which sent me into giggles. It’s not often that I hear serious songs about bumper cars or Elvis siting on theme park rides. Great as he was, his set started to drag when he played some slower numbers, although his vivacious energy and funny banter kept us awake between songs.

Frank Turner

Things have changed since I last saw Turner play in Wellington. The Commodore Ballroom was easily twice the size of Bodega and Meow, where I’ve seen him play previously.

Turner keeps track of ever show he’s played. Meow was #1666. Tonight was #2101. That’s close to 500 odd shows that he’s played in two years. No wonder the man has such a die hard following, considering how hard he works. He also has numerous new tattoos. Last time I saw him the violin f-holes on his forearms were relatively fresh. Now he has many others crowding his skin as well.

But despite the time past since I saw him last, the rules remained the same: #1 don’t be a dick – look after each other. #2 sing along.

Turner and his merry men of Sleeping Souls stop upon that stage and tore through everything we hoped for. At first it seemed that most of the set was drawn from the two most recent albums, Positive Songs for Negative People, and Tape Deck Heart. But throughout the night he drew a few songs from each album, hedging his bets with wanting to please fans both new and old.

PSFNP wasn’t released last time I saw Turner live, so it was interesting seeing how some of the tracks sounded live. In my album review, I’d written that “Out Of Breath” is “played at such a pace that it seems that the musicians are almost tripping over themselves”. Funnily enough, Turner demanded that the audience start a circle pit for that song, so I feel my description was surprisingly accurate, that the song was designed for people running around out of control.

“Mittens” was another surprise. Turner was solo onstage at this point, playing a few solo ballads. “Mittens” is a mostly soft song, building up towards the end. Live, its a different animal. Turner bellowed with all his might, red in the face. I never expected such a sweet song to be played so violently.

He also treated us to three new songs from the forthcoming album. This was the first headlining gig in a long time so I guess this was his chance to offer something new that he couldn’t do during supporting legs of someone else’s tour.

I thought it ironic that he sang a song entitled “Be More Kind” to a group of Canadians. For what I could gather, the next album has two major themes. Half of it is reactionary to the state of affairs in the world at the moment. One song is called “1933”, which I read as comparing some current world events to the rise of Hitler. But then there are some happy love songs – not a typical Turner song topic. He played one such track called “There She Is”.

One of the best parts of the night was when Turner called his longtime friend Alice onstage. “I haven’t seen you in a very long time” he explained to her, “and when I catch up with old friends I like to have a drink with them”. From stage he ordered two shots of whiskey from the bar, and asked that they be handed to the sound guy. “Alice, during this next song I need you to crowd surf back to the sound desk, get the whiskey, and crowd surf back to the stage without spilling a drop”.

It was so fun to see this mad challenge pulled off, with Alice precariously riding the sea of up-stretched arms with a shot glass in each of her hands. The two reunited onstage and sunk their respective drinks. “That was a bloody stupid idea”, Turner remarked “it’s like drinking during the middle of a cardio session!”

Towards the end of the set Turner made an announcement. “I’m ashamed to say that despite practicing every day of my life since I was a child, I’m still not good enough to play death metal. But we can still bring death metal to the show!” He asked the crowd to split in two, like Moses parting the red seas.

I turned to my friend wild eyed. “We’ve got to go! We’re going to die!” I told him, anticipating a wall of death.

Turns out I was wrong. Turner made a speech about how the world is divided at present, and how we need to come together and support each other. Instead of the infamous wall of death, he wanted to start a wall of hugs. As gimmicky as it was, it was a nice way to bring a crowd of strangers together.

I’ve recently been reading Turner’s autobiography, The Road Beneath My Feet. It has given me insight into his life, and the meanings behind many of his lyrics. Songs like Tell Tale Signs and Long Live The Queen are suddenly a lot sadder when you understand what they are about. But I think that’s a big aspect of Turner’s appeal – he’s relatable. He sings about the hurt in his life, the struggles and vulnerabilities. That’s why you have hardened punks in patched jackets showing up to a show that features men in white collared shirts playing mandolin. Because at the heart of the music, when you strip away the genres and the scene expectations, Frank Turner writes songs that give hope.

There’s nothing quite like seeing your favourite song played live [mine is “I Am Disappeared”]. I remember when I first saw Turner play, many years ago. It was wild seeing the man I’d listened to thousands of times stand ten metres in front of me and sing those same songs from a stage. And after seeing him for a third time, I can tell you that the rowdy, inclusive, heartfelt show he puts on only gets better each time.


Frank Turner links:

Website: http://frank-turner.com/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/frankturnermusic
Twitter: https://twitter.com/FrankTurner
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/frankturner
YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/user/frankturner

 

Joseph James

Album Review: Rise Against – Wolves

Rise Against Wolves
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The classification of punk music is totally subjective. What do The Ramones, The Clash and The Sex Pistols share in common? Who’s more punk out of Blink 182 or the Rage Against The Machine? To me, the two essential elements of good punk music are speed and political content.

Rise Against have both. Since discovering them in my early teens, they have long been one of my favourite bands. I’ve seen them more than any other international act (Powerstation 2009, Big Day Out 2010, Logan Campbell Centre 2011, and opening for Foo Fighters 2015), and they also take up the most space in my record collection (alongside Biffy Clyro).

But to be honest, I wasn’t so keen on their latest album. I won’t go so far as to say they sold-out, but Appeal To Reason signaled a tipping point for the band once they had signed to a major label, and since then their sound became steadily more accessible. This culminated in their last release, The Black Market, lacking the edge that the band once had.

Thankfully, album number eight, Wolves, feels more raw than the polished radio-rock that the band had churned out over the past few releases. I doubt we will ever hear a true return to their hardcore roots, but the pop sheen on this record is thankfully less noticeable. I didn’t have high hopes on first listen, having not thought much of their previous record, but thankfully Wolves proved instantly likable.

It’s the same familiar Rise Against. They’ve transcended their underground roots to create a melodic-hardcore-come-arena-rock style that has boosted them to prominence. And I do not begrudge them for their success. But I do feel that a special connection to the band has been lost since they started gaining more dominance on the airwaves.

I stated before that I think political content is a vital aspect of good punk music. Rise Against have always toed the line well in this regard – writing lyrics that allude to their personal and political values without being overt enough to ostracize their increasingly mainstream fan base. Just a handful of topics they’ve touched on in the past include treatment of animals (many of the band members are vegan), people (refugees, the LGBT community) and the fallout of war (including the impacts on both soldiers and civilians involved).

In his typical fashion, on Wolves singer Tim McIlrath cries out against injustice with a fervent fire. One could attribute inspiration to a certain orange-tinted world leader, but in reality corruption and oppression will always exist, regardless of who runs the government. Wolves features a theme of rallying the people to stand as one against ambiguous powers-that-be. Both relevant and vague enough for most people to relate to. And how can one not be drawn to that call to humanity that all of us possess?

Plus they have lots of “whoas”. “Whoas” are freaking awesome, and the perfect invitation from a band to have you sing along. Just ask The Casualties.

I find it hard to define my overall verdict. Wolves is actually great. I love Rise Against, and will always hold them dear as an important building block in my musical education. But I’m not sure that I needed another album from them. I like Wolves, but chances are high that  if I’m hoping for my Rise Against fix I will overlook it and reach for one of their older records.

 

Joseph James

Live Review: Alexisonfire at The Powerstation, Auckland

Alexisonfire Powerstation Auckland
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Alexisonfire

w/ Barracks

Powerstation, Auckland

Monday 23 January 2016

You’d think that with the amount of trouble I get into, I’d have learnt by now not to underestimate my ability to get lost in another city. But unfortunately I still find myself in situations like that today, in which I managed to get stranded on an island.

After an exciting day of exploring old army bunkers on Waiheke Island, I found the winding roads too hard to navigate, and managed to narrowly miss the ferry I needed to catch back to Auckland in time for the gig.

Sadly opening act Barracks had long finished their set by the time I got to the Powerstation, and Alexisonfire were already half way through their second song as I entered the venue.

I was kicking myself for showing up so late, but my excitement meant that I was soon caught up in the moment and forgot about the stress of trying to get there earlier. I’d been looking forward to this show for many months, and after an eventful drive up from Wellington I was finally here – albeit slightly late.

Alexisonfire are five piece post-hardcore act from Ontario, Canada. They released four albums between 2002-2009. One point of difference they boast is that they have three singers: George Pettit fronts the band on unclean vocals, Dallas Green sings clean vocals as well as playing guitar and piano, and Wade McNeil provides backing vocals whilst also playing guitar. In 2012 the band disbanded, with each singer going on to front other projects.

The Powerstation was well packed for a Monday night, with a generous turnout to see the newly reformed Canadians back in action. Here was a band that was most relevant a decade ago, but could still attract a decent audience on a work night.

And after seeing them play, I could see why. This was one of the more intense shows I’d been to in a while. The driving drums, high energy riffs and powerful roars all blended together to create a visceral experience.  I’m surprised that the mosh pit wasn’t more wild, between the music, Pettit shouting at us to “Fuck this place up” and McNeil telling us to punch Nazis in the face.

To be honest they could have said just about anything and the crowd would have lapped it up. People even tolerated  Green’s request for us to sing “Happy Birthday” to one of the roadies. In fact, if I remember correctly, he also asked us to sing “Happy Birthday” to his guitarist when City And Colour last played in Wellington as well. In my experience this seldom goes down well when a musician pulls this. But everyone was having a good time. People cheered when the band announced that the venue was a safe and tolerant space. People cheered when they heard that former local act The Bleeders lived near the band in Canada. People cheered when Pettit said he could see us all clearly after having had laser eye surgery.

The band covered a great cross section material, with tracks pulled from all four albums – predominantly 2006’s Crisis – and even the title track from their 2010 Dog’s Blood EP.

It was a dynamic set. The band ripped through popular hits and offered an all-out assault at first, but towards the end of the set they changed it up by introducing meandering instrumental sections and tender sing along moments. Encoring with some songs from the older two albums was met with favour, with many people noticeably running to the front to get closer during their old-time favourites.

Although the band’s punk pedigree was a big draw card, their slow burners and more melodic moments stood out. Green has enjoyed a fine career with his solo side project City and Colour, which is more folk/singer-songwriter styled. His strengths lie in vocal melodies and this was more than evident tonight, with his voice being far louder in the mix than the others. His voice is fantastic, and although he strained at times, his singing sections provided standout singalongs that brought balance to George and Wade’s double teamed shouting.

It was a brilliant gig. Varied, dynamic, and featuring all the expected hits. The band not only played their songs, but they put on a show. Nostalgia for well-written old songs were enough to draw the punters in, and excellent delivery kept them wanting more.

 

Joseph James

Album Review: In Between – Locustvale

In Between Locastvale
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Entry point: Locustvale
Personal favourite: Skin on Skin

From the opening lines this sounds promising. I’ve never heard of In Between before, two tracks into the album and I’m drawing comparisons to Rise Against and that pop influenced punk rock genre. Please note that the “pop influenced” is far from a bad thing in my opinion, more bands would do themselves favours by taking what they do and simplifying. If the song is good, it will show through.

The vocals are on point, harmonies are there when required and the screaming/yelling is tastefully done.

Production on the album is solid and unobtrusive, the songs are able to stand on their own legs without sounding manufactured or as so often happens with this style of music, it doesn’t sound like a garage demo that’s been released.

A note to any band who has the means, yet is still considering releasing less than studio quality productions: Don’t.

You’re only doing yourselves a disservice. If you don’t want to lose the raw energy of performing live or don’t want to be too polished, tell your engineer and producer that. If you’re a good live band, capturing that in the studio is easy. Listen to Rage Against the Machine‘s self titled album and tell me that it lacks energy or is too polished.

Locustvale is relatively two dimensional, but at 27 minutes that isn’t a concern – album is over before you know it.

The track Skin on Skin has a slightly slower more anthemic feel to it, which is where I get the Rise Against comparison. By slowing things down the vocals have more space to breathe and carry the track forward.

The track Locustvale (video above) is a decent summation of the rest of the album, the drums and bass drive it forward and leave plenty of space for the vocals to shine.

In my opinion this genre works best when the instruments drop in and out to add dynamics and contrast to the music, when albums are comprised of songs that aren’t all the same kick-snare-kick-kick-snare pattern at the same tempo.

Locustvale has the songs for those days of driving with the windows down on a hot summer road trip. Fans of this genre should find plenty on this album to enjoy.

– Murray


This review was originally posted by Murray Stace at his site  Relative Silence