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Guitar Wolf at Turf Club, 10/3/13

Guitar Wolf at Turf Club, 10/3/13
Erik Hess

Guitar Wolf with the Coathangers Turf Club 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.

Guitar Wolf at Turf Club, 10/3/13
Erik Hess

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.

Guitar Wolf at Turf Club, 10/3/13
Erik Hess

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.  

Guitar Wolf at Turf Club, 10/3/13
Erik Hess

If you like your rock 'n' roll heavy on the "spectacle," then Guitar Wolf are definitely your new heroes. At one point, the guitarist lifted his axe by the neck, flipping it upside down to knock baseballs lofted by a roadie into the crowd, calling his hits like Babe Ruth. Later, he pulled an unsuspecting local onstage and handed him the guitar, working through the language barrier to use the poor guy as a prop for an extended bit. This mostly consisted of riling the crowd up to jump while controlling the audience members' hands to draw new levels of feedback from the screaming instrument. The audience ate it up, and pushed back even harder, willing Guitar Wolf into a gloriously messy crash-out after the singer crowdsurfed like a pro.

Guitar Wolf at Turf Club, 10/3/13
Erik Hess

During the second encore, Seji polled the audience on where they went to high-school before launching it another barnstorming, Link-Wray-on-speed mini-set before the show's climax. That would, of course, be the nine-man human pyramid he built onstage with little regard for which audience members were put on the bottom. To give those fellas credit, they held strong while the frontman sunk his motorcycle boots into their backs, eventually reaching the peak and screaming like an eagle, sending the bodies underneath him crashing to the stage and diving off into the crowd. It was the kind of glorious, insane, pure moment that keeps nerds like me going back out to shows.

Guitar Wolf at Turf Club, 10/3/13
Erik Hess

Critic's Bias: Probably not as familiar with the specifics of Guitar Wolf's library or their place in the Japanese Punk movement as I ought to be.

The Crowd: A mix of new boots and grizzled old punks complaining that their last two shows were way better.

Random Notebook Dump: Birthday Suits guitarist and local favorite Hideo appeared onstage at one point during the "guitar trading" bit and attempted to take-over for the poor kid who'd been stuck up there. Wish they would have let him play, but Seji promptly kicked him offstage. Missed opportunity!


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