Guitar Wolf at Turf Club, 10/3/13
with the Coathangers
October 3, 2013
We rock journalists are a jaded, wary bunch of nerds most of the time. We stand in the middle-rear of the club while folks up front have a ball, politely scribbling notes at specific moments, nodding knowingly when certain tropes are employed, satisfied that we can maintain a safe, critical distance from action. But every so often, a band rolls through town that renders our notebooks completely irrelevant.
Japanese garage-punk legends Guitar Wolf stormed onto the Turf stage last night and did exactly that, blowing away the notion that a show needs things like "restraint" or "coherence" to be effective. With the sheer force of their playing and showmanship, these veteran entertainers took a defibrillator to the dying heart of rock 'n' roll and sent 1,000 volts of pure energy into the crowd. I didn't touch my pen all night.
Atlanta support act the Coathangers were also far too much fun to waste paper on. The band's rotated a few members since their start in 2007, but the core group of drummer-vocalist Rusty, bassist Minnie, and singer-guitarist Crook Kid, Coathanger remains solidly intact. Performing as a power-trio for this outing, the group specializes in an oddball take on surf-punk that's a little bit riot grrrl and a little bit B52s, with a dash of primal, groovy swamp-rock thrown in for good measure.
With catty, irreverent songs delivered by Crook Kid's playful yelp or the whiskey-soaked growl of Rusty, the Coathangers never take themselves too seriously but don't seem to be playing entirely for laughs. Chalk that up to a natural chemistry between the women, as well as serious chops, somewhat disguised by the deceptively simple nature of the songs. Rusty, in particular, lit up the stage with brawny work on the toms, eventually switching to guitar, and then to mic-rocking, handling each with a magnetic presence. The trio's jagged compositions and primitive-rock roots made a great warmup for the insanity that was to follow.
After a brief screening of an excerpt from their feature-length zombie movie Wild Zero, Guitar Wolf climbed up and struck action-hero poses, basking in the roaring applause. Once they picked up their guitars and drummer Toru kicked in the beat to their first song, it became abundantly clear that their nickname "Jet Rock 'n' Roll" was not an overstatement. Blasting out an incomprehensible series of four-chord, two-minute jams from their wide catalog at earsplitting volume, Guitar Wolf's massive sound hit the front row like the wind from the turbine of a 787, sending kids spinning and opening up a yawning pit in front of the stage.
Guitarist and frontman Seji's vocals are never particularly highlighted on the group's lo-fi recordings, but in the live setting, he gives him self over to the music in a way that renders him gloriously incomprehensible. Shouting encouragements, curses, and bizarre non-sequitors at every opportunity to rile up the front rows, the man is the kind of pure rock 'n' roll dynamo that they just don't make anymore. Lifting his Gibson like a rifle, Seji dumped the full clip on the room like John McClane at the end of Die Hard, firing off riff after riff with semi-automatic precision.
Back in 2005, Guitar Wolf's founding bassist Billy suffered a fatal heart attack at only 38 years old, leaving a Dee-Dee Ramone sized hole in the heart of the jet-rock legends. While his legacy was certainly felt within the group's shout-along vocals, there wasn't a somber note to the evening in the least. His replacement, Ug, who even bears some resemblance to the original, held his own on a broken-off 3-string bass, providing a solid support for Seji's crazed antics.