One of the many perks that came with accompanying the Makers on a tour of Japan last October was the opportunity to survey some of that country’s rock treasures.
During their 12-day sack of Japan, the Makers sparred with a cast of outstanding bands. On three occasions, the Spokane contingent of trash rock shared the bill with Guitar Wolf, the Godzilla of all Japanese garage-punk bands.
Six months later, the Makers and Guitar Wolf reunite for one show, Saturday at Ichabod’s North.
In America, Guitar Wolf has built a rabid cult following thanks to six tours - including one with the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion - and the release of a battery of well-received indie records. The Tokyo trio is touring behind its third U.S. LP (fifth overall), “Missile Me,” released in December by Matador Records (Jon Spencer, Guided By Voices and Pavement).
Naturally, the ideal locale to get a glimpse of Guitar Wolf untamed in a room full of bodies is on its home turf. If you can afford the airfare. Somehow seeing the band anywhere else would have lessened the experience, because to truly appreciate many of the Japanese bands, one should observe them in their own environment.
Since the disintegration of punk hero Teen Generate, Guitar Wolf has led the pack in the Japanese garage-punk scene. With dozens of other bands vying for the crown and a legion of fans ceaselessly demanding over-the-top performances, every time the Wolf prowls on stage, it must shed a savage, crazed performance.
The Japanese scene breeds competition, even in the underground, where playing music isn’t only intended to be fun; it’s business. To be in contention, bands must leave the audience with something to remember them by, which is why so many of the punk bands resort to gimmickry.
For example, one band’s singer suited up like a Las Vegas lounge singer ‘70s-style, slicked his hair back with a switch-comb and fired a toy laser gun into the pick-ups of his guitar. One band zipped up some jumpsuits and strapped on motorcycle helmets. Another combo’s singer turned androgynous to seize eyes. The singer of one band was a little more resourceful: He just peeled off his clothes.
This isn’t totally uncommon in America’s underground, except you don’t typically see these kinds of stunts all pulled at one show.
Guitar Wolf is different. The band has won the adoration of its scene with an enigmatic stage persona and the one-two punch of a cacophonous eruption of mammoth guitar chords and scurrying rhythms. The trio churns out trashy, lo-fi rock ‘n’ roll with a vengeance. And few bands in the world rock with as much tenacity as Guitar Wolf.
That doesn’t necessarily mean the band is particularly adept at playing its instruments. Toru and Billy are. Seiji, on the other hand, regularly misses the mark on his badly tuned six-string.
But he sure looks good. And at deafening decibels in a wash of distortion and feedback, Seiji’s falters aren’t glaring.
“All we try to do is recreate the images we have of great rock and rollers, great rock and roll musicians. All we want to do is jump around with the guitar playing,” Seiji told an interviewer.
That’s precisely what they do.
Like many Japanese bands, Guitar Wolf looks to American pop culture for inspiration and imitates its heroes. Never, though, is it a shallow portrayal. In a strange way, the members of Guitar Wolf get so caught up in the theatrics of the show, they actually morph into their mentors - Joey Ramone, James Dean, Fred “Sonic” Smith (MC5) and Johnny Thunders.
For three shows in Japan, Guitar Wolf preceded the headlining Makers. Each night the Japanese combo made the Makers, a band as yet unproven in Japan, work hard. The friendly competition resulted in some of the best Makers sets to date.
The Makers met Guitar Wolf a couple of years ago at Garage Shock, a weekend-long garage-rock festival held almost yearly in Bellingham, Wash.
The two crossed paths again in Memphis on the set of “Sore Losers” last spring. The film, which is presently showing in clubs in major markets, stars singer Mike Maker and the members of Guitar Wolf. (At this time, there are no plans for “Sore Losers” to be shown in Spokane.)
Both the Makers and their Japanese counterparts contribute songs to the soundtrack, which will soon to be issued by Sympathy for the Record Industry.
This isn’t the only record hitting the market with new Makers material. The fearsome foursome has just unleashed two new releases on Estrus Records - an EP called “Tear Your World Apart” and an LP titled “Hunger.” (By the way, the Bellingham-based Estrus was recently hammered with $350,000 in damages after a fire ravaged its uninsured warehouse.)
In addition, the Makers team with L.A. singer April March for an LP called “April March Sings the Songs of the Makers” and the Kings of Rock (featuring members of Gas Huffer) for a split EP. The latter two releases appear on Sympathy for the Record Industry.
Lending his illustration talents to the jacket of “Tear Your World Apart,”available on CD and double 7-inch vinyl, is Jaime Hernandez, the Los Angeles artist known for his comic book “Love and Rockets.” (Yes, the band by the same name took its moniker from the comic.)
In May, the Makers will embark on their first tour since the Japan extravaganza, playing two weeks worth of dates in the Midwest and on the East Coast with English garage-rock legends Billy Childish and Thee Headcoats.
Rambunctious garage popsters the Stoics open Saturday night’s big event. The young four-piece band continues to wow all-ages audiences, not only with their brisk, sharp-witted pop ditties, but also with their attire. The Stoics dress up as Pee Wee Herman’s backing band.
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: A NIGHT OF PUNK Who: Guitar Wolf, with the Makers and the Stoics When: 9:30 Saturday Where: Ichabod’s North Admission: $5 cover, 21 & older.