I have just returned from seeing Guitar Wolf, the legendary jet rock and rollers from Japan. I have wanted to see this band since I first bought one of their albums at the seminal Wax Trax record store in Boulder,Colorado in 1998.(I think it was the first thing I ever got there oddly enough, along with a Motorhead compilation) So needless to say I was excited. I mean the thundering Link Wray riffs that made you ready to rumble with some Socs, the frenzied two to three minutes of every carnage filled song, and of course the amount of aliens killed in their cult film Wild Zero made me excited to see the men in black this evening.
And you know what…it wasn’t that awesome. I mean sure they played Missile Me and Jet Generation quite early and their genius stands up, but a 5 minute jam song with stops and starts for audience snap along? A 10 minute noise jam that makes The Germs Annihalation Man sound as orchestrated as Berlioz?
Listen, I’m cool with a good noise breakdown, see my love of Sonic Youth and My Bloody Valentine, but there is a fine line between amazing and unlistenable wankery. This show definitely was on the latter side, I mean 30 minutes into the show I swear they had played a full 5 songs when by that point they should’ve already been at AT LEAST 10. It all felt very tired, perhaps the problem is the band has never really gone away long enough for anyone to really miss them
Which is in stark contrast to their former Matador labelmates, The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, who also played in Austin in the past month. This show while sold out, shockingly didn’t include much of the normal youthful indie rock crowd, which proves that most so called “cool people” didn’t start listening to music until after 2004. Because if they had, they would’ve know Jon Spencer always means fucking business. Even during the disaffected Pussy Galore days his sneer, showmanship, and style created a hypnotic power that kept you into the songs when they would veer into the unlistenable.
So here were the Blues Explosion, no new album since 04′, no tours since a short 05′ stint, with everything to prove. Were they still great? Still a force? Remotely relevant in a landscape still littered with synthsizers? The answer was yes on all three accounts.
Name a Blues Explosion song from any era and they probably played it, it was that kind of show. Bellbottoms, Sweat, 2 Kindsa Love, all played with the kind of swagger and power you expect from Spencer, Simins, and Bauer. It was the kind of show that made you not only remember not only how great they are, but exactly why you started listening to the band in the first place. It was all familiar but there was an urgency and excitement, which is what Guitar Wolf were lacking…It was difference between seeing a great band with rock stars members all of whom still have something to say vs seeing a band limping by on previous triumphs.
Guitar Wolf in more awesome alien killing days
Jon Spencer Blues Explosion in younger even more bonkers days