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#)

Album Review: Toe – Hear You

Toe Hear You cover
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It has been a great year for post-rock. Wellington has recently been visited by some greats like This Will Destroy You, sleepmakeswaves and Mogwai. And some brilliant albums have been released by bands from all ends of the spectrum worldwide.

The latest such release is Hear You, the third studio full length from Japanese rockers Toe.

Although I would classify Hear You as post-rock, it isn’t a strictly instrumental album. In fact, many of the songs include singing, like the tracks ‘Commit Ballad’ and ‘Song Silly’. Some songs are softly cooed, some are rapped. There are both male and female singers, making the sound all the more diverse. The singing is also predominantly Japanese, but I think I can identify English in “Song Silly”.

This first half of the album sounds like one big song that slowly evolves. The second half is where things begin to mix up. ‘Time Goes’ actually sound more like rapping than singing, backed by some funky guitar, bass, and organ. The next song, ‘オトトタイミングキミト’ follows up with the hip-hop feel, this time with jazzy piano parts.

The crisp drumming throughout the album is standout. In fact, the busy drumming during breakdown in “A Desert of Human” is probably the best moment on the entire album. At times drummer Kashikura Takashiit hangs back, waiting. But when the time comes his playing is urgent and hurried, adding pace and filling the emptiness in a tasteful way. He plays around the timing with drags and shuffles, and makes the most of space with varied rolls, fills and flourishes. There is a very math-rock approach, adding colour and vibrancy to some otherwise straightforward sounding songs.

Hear You has a clean, cohesive sound that is soothing but engaging. It is predominantly percussion driven, with jangly picking and light strumming from the guitars. That said, even though there is a ongoing sound saturating the album, it is also incredibly experimental and subtly diverse. Take the track ‘G.O.O.D L.U.C.K’, for example. It contains tabla drumming, whining Kanye autotune sounds and cheerleader chanting. And somehow it all works in together. There are so many intricacies and subtle layers that only reveal themselves on repeat listens. It’s a short album – the 11 songs only add up to 40 minutes of material – but it’s a case of quality over quantity.

Hear You may be shortbut it’s so good that you’ll likely find yourself listening to it on repeat anyway.

Joseph James

Live Review: Guitar Wolf at Mighty Mighty, Wellington

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Guitar Wolf playing Stinkfest 2013

Mighty Mighty, Wellington

Thursday 12 December 2013

 

When the opening band has two drum kits and a gimp mask, you know that your night will either be really good, or really bad. Oddly enough, Guitar Wolf’s live show came under both categories. The music isn’t exactly what I’d call good, but they put on one of the best shows I’ve ever seen.

Japan’s answer to the Ramones; Guitar Wolf are a caricature of all things rock and roll. (Or rather, lock and loll). The band has the image and sound down pat – clad in black leather and sunglasses and playing at breakneck speeds with volume levels to rival Spinal Tap.

Their set started with the singer, Seiji, asking for a beer from the crowd, which he promptly downed in one go. This set the tone for a wild night. One punter earned himself a spot as guest guitarist by winning a thumb wrestle with Seiji. A human pyramid was formed onstage. There was stagediving. One member of the audience sang his school song into the microphone. Seiji hit plastic balls into the crowd wielding his guitar like a cricket bat.

The music was pretty terrible, a torrent of noise and distortion. A shout of “One, two, three!” was the only way to distinguish where most songs started and finished. It was bordering on impossible to decipher anything Seiji said/sung with his thick Japanese accent. (“Did he just say Mt Victoria is poisoned!?”)
The thing that set this show apart from the rest is the band’s dedication to the lock. No matter how hot they got they wouldn’t remove their clothing. They were all dripping with sweat, but rockers wear leather! It almost seemed cartoonish. Drum Wolf (Toru) was a powerhouse with the endurance of a steam engine, and Bass Wolf (U.G.) held down a solid groove.

They gave it their all, continuously playing faster and louder. And when we thought it was over, the band kept coming back for more and more encores. This show was almost two years to the day since Guitar Wolf had last played in Wellington. And this time was just as memorable.

 

Joseph James