EP Review: Toe – Our Latest Number

Toe Our Latest Number EP cover
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To me, Toe are about as close as you can come to a perfect band. They are incredibly talented musicians who create great compositions that appeal to just about everyone. It’s never a bad time to listen to Toe, no matter what kind of mood you’re in. I have a funny anecdote that I shared in my Masaki Hanakata review, which involved me introducing Toe to American teenage girls at a Summer Camp I worked at, resulting in them all chanting “Toe! Toe! Toe!” until I played some of Toe’s music through tinny speakers at the campfire.

Their new EP, Our Latest Number picks up where Hear You (2015) left off. In fact, I feel that the new song “Etude of Solitude” could complete a trilogy started with the 2015 tracks “Premonition” and “A Desert of Human”, following similar sounding guitar lines. “Etude…” is my favourite track of this EP, featuring split tapped poly-rhythms, sparing yet effective use of vibraphone, splendid drumming, and possibly even sitar?

We hear light, airy songs that sound simple, but are deceptively complex. The songs are very repetitive, looping around groovy motifs that gradually evolve. Precise poly-rhythms of noodly guitars sit above concise, dry drumming, loaded with explosive energy, yet exuding chilled out vibes.

Most Toe tracks are instrumental, and when they feature vocals the singing is usually diverse and unpredictable. Hear You had male and female vocals, stunning harmonies and even rapping. By comparison, the two songs featuring singing on this EP are relatively straightforward and calm.

Thanos would love this EP because it feels so perfectly balanced. The playing is busy, but the musicians know where to leave space. The music sounds so clean and articulate due to the fact that there are very little sound effects added to the playing . Most post-rock music is saturated in distortion, reverb, delay etc… so these songs sound fresh by comparison.

That is not to say there are no effects or synthetic sounds utilised. “F_A_R” has a weird sliding sound – almost like a robotic heartbeat – at the start of the track. I first noticed it as I was walking to work a few days ago, and I thought the sound was my headphone cord rubbing against my clothes. The track continues to employ interesting sounds from synths and sequencers to add texture.

It says something about the quality of the music when you love a band so much without knowing much about them. I have no idea what they sing about on their songs that contain singing. It’s hard to keep track of what they’re up to over social media, seeing as most content I find is written in Japanese. I can’t understand what their message is, so I simply let the music talk on their behalf.

The only downside of Our Latest Number is that it is too short, last just shy of 20 minutes. And on top of that, some tracks almost feel like rehashed versions of older songs (compare the drumbeat “The Latest Number” against “You Go”, from 2009’s For Long Tomorrow). But my complacency isn’t justified – I just crave more music from this outstanding band!

This is an immaculate EP, in keeping with their previous output. Essential listening for most math-rock and post-rock fans, and I’m sure just as appealing to anyone who doesn’t usually listen to instrumental music. Just press play, and bask in the music’s genius and clarity.

Toe links:

Upcoming US tour dates:

  • September 07, 2018 – Washington, DC, US @ Black Cat
  • September 08, 2018 – Brooklyn, NY, US @ Warsaw
  • September 09, 2018 – Philadelphia, PA, US @ Union Transfer
  • September 10, 2018 – Allston, MA, US @ Brighton Music Hall
  • September 12, 2018 – Toronto, ON, Canada @ Virgin Mobile Mod Club
  • September 13, 2018 – Chicago, IL, US @ Thalia Hall
  • September 14, 2018 – Minneapolis, MN, US @ Fine Line Music Cafe
  • September 17, 2018 – Seattle, WA, US @ The Crocodile
  • September 18, 2018 – Vancouver, BC, Canada @ The Imperial
  • September 19, 2018 – Portland, OR, US @ Wonder Ballroom
  • September 20, 2018 – San Francisco, CA, US @ Great American Music Hall
  • September 21, 2018 – Los Angeles, CA, US @ Regent Theater

Joseph James

Live Review: King Brothers, Vottones and DHDFD’s at Meow, Wellington

The King Brothers NZ tour poster
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The King Brothers

w/ The DHDFD’s
The Vottones
Unsanitary Napkin
Meow, Wellington
Wednesday 21 February 2018

I gotta say, before you scroll down, be aware that this review and the photos embedded are not safe for work. Seriously. If your boss catches you looking at some of these images during work hours you are going to have to have a very awkward conversation. This is not appropriate workplace content. This cannot be considered decent by any stretch of the imagination. It’s downright depraved. Got it? Well then read on…

Watching Unsanitary Napkin made me regret that I’ve become estranged from the Wellington punk scene. I used to get along to many more punk shows, but the frequency decreased as many of my friends in hardcore bands disbanded. I still crave a taste of that intense abandon now and again, but don’t get my fix nearly as often as I should. Unsanitary Napkin reminded me of when PEARS opened for Strung Out – hyper aggressive and slightly unpredictable. The two guys in the rhythm section sported proper mops – a shaggy one on bass and a Beatles-esque mop on drums. Long hair always has potential to visually enhance a show, and it was great to see the players whip it around as they played. The vocals coming from the girl on guitar came totally unexpected. She was channeling some heavy stuff, because the coarse shrieking didn’t sound natural. It was weird seeing these demons tear through violent songs, only to transform into cutesy “aw shucks” embarrassed kids between songs. I’ll award points for intensity, but then dock a few for the lack of confidence between songs. Fake it til you make it!

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I glanced sideways at my friend Paris. I’d met up with her for dinner last week for a catch up seeing as she had just returned from a big stint abroad. She’d mentioned that she was keen to catch more live music and I invited her to this, the next gig I was planning to go to. Clearly I hadn’t put much thought into that, and now the poor girl was getting irreversibly scarred from this experience I’d recommended.

The Vottones Meow

Next up were Vottones. wow… what a band!

They delighted in vulgarity. Raw, unrepentant filth. I didn’t understand much of what was said, except for lots of “fuck you”s, an MC5 cover, and repeated chanting of the line “I AM DIARRHOEA”. Class, pure class. This is what I’ve come for.

At one point the singer gestured to his chest as he introduced a song. Is he pointing to his heart? Because if so, it’s the wrong side. Moments later I see that, no, not the heart. He is definitely pointing to his nips with both hands. Just to hammer the point home, he walked along to the bassist to jerk his shirt up and put his microphone to a saggy man-breast while he played. What is this, singing titty hour?

The Vottones Meow

Abusing the bassist didn’t stop there. The band riffed the tune to Sabbath‘s “Iron Man” as he removed his own shirt, grabbed the mic and stepped down into the crowd to sing. Although he didn’t stop there. He walked through the audience and out of the venue. It got to the point that he’d walked so far the mic lead had pulled out, but that didn’t stop him from furiously shouting into it. Upon returning to the front of stage, the singer jumped down and gave poor bass-man the wedgie from hell. As in, pulled the stressed undergarments so hard that he practically tore them in two. He then crouched down and put his head through the undie hole and allowed himself to get dragged around by his new noose, continuing to play guitar.

They also invited someone from the audience up onstage for a guitar duel at one point. I think they knew him – he could definitely play guitar well – but he could have been a random for all I know. I’ve been in that situation myself, pulled up onstage to play guitar for a band (although I don’t know how to play guitar).

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People think I’m weird for going to these kinds of things. And they’re 100% correct. But they don’t know what they’re missing out on. Last year I saw a guy dressed as an astronaut duet with puppets. A few months ago I played guitar with the legendary Guitar Wolf. These are the experiences that make you know that you are truly living. Sometimes the path to enlightenment involves watching half-naked foreign men violate all concepts of decency in dimly lit bar on a Wednesday night. I don’t make the rules – that’s just how it is.

The hilarious thing is that after the set the guys from Vottones got changed from their leather rock gear into standard clothing. It’s weird to see a man walking around in baggy jeans and a cute sweater, knowing that just 10 minutes ago he was a vile rock lord. It shatters illusions to see that he was a nice guy in comfy clothes commenting on how good the chicken on the menu tastes.

The DHDFD’s came across as a weird cross between Deja Voodoo and The Datsuns. I know, it doesn’t make sense to me either, but that’s how it was – both terribly dero and stylistic. Scott on vocals was rocking the timeless outfit of only stubbies and a trucker cap, while his bandmates either side of him wore dress shoes. It was snotty punk with odd tangents. “We wrote this one after snorting meth, thinking that it was speed”, Scott explained, before popping a Gollum squat on a table amidst the audience for the next song. I would consider this set mad enough on any given day, but sandwiched between two crazy Japanese acts made it look mild by comparison.

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Next up were the headliners- the almighty King Brothers. During soundcheck the drummer let loose and I found my attention snatched away from the conversation I was having with Paris. Dude has chops! It’s unfair really – borderline cheating. I came here to witness energy, aggression. Wild, untamed insanity. Stage dives and gimmicks. But musical talent? That’s just not punk rock!

The King Brothers Meow

The trio dressed sharply in suits, adding an edge of sophistication to their set. The started off with a bang, with the bass and guitar players climbing onto speakers and jumping off in unison.

The lead vocalist with greying hair dominated as the life of the party. “COME CLOSER!” he shouted, beckoning to us. “COME CLOSER!” As soon as a mass of bodies had collected in front of him he sprang off the stage, the first of countless croudsurfing sessions during the set.

The King Brothers Meow

I’m not sure who was most standout in the King Brothers. The floor adverse singer certainly deserves a mention. A madman front and centre, demanding attention and acting out like a toddler. He shouted and swore, climbing on things and calling for people to put him up and carry him around. But then the other two onstage held it down professionally, with their unceasingly good brand of rock. Usually either the music or the show suffers at expense of the other, but in this case both the madness and the talent impressed.

The most excellent moment was when the vocalist ran into the crowd, snatched a girl’s drink, sculled it down, grabbed a dude nearby for a quick pash, and before you know it was back onstage.

Towards the end the band picked up the drumkit and re-assembled it in the middle of the floor, continuing the set in the centre of the crowd. Our madman friend, shirtless by this point, circled his bandmates above their heads, doing donuts whilst crowdsurfing.

It’s an overused cliché, I know. But dammit I was speechless after that show. I just stood near the bar, mouth slightly ajar, trying to process everything I’d just experienced. Just… just… uh… woah. That was rock and roll. That was a show.

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It’s bittersweet really. I had such a blast. I thoroughly enjoyed every wretched minute. But I am sad knowing that I’ll unlikely ever see a show that good again.

Photographer Connor Crawford recently posted a photo from King Brother’s Auckland show, captioned “King Brothers are the greatest band in the world”. I can 100% see where he comes from. Up until now Iron Maiden and Guitar Wolf both laid claim for my greatest live shows, but I think that I may need to revise this now.

And as for my friend Paris? Well yeah, she may need to get therapy at some point down the track, but she had the time of her life, and was grinning from ear to ear by the end of it.

 

Words and photos by Joseph James

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