Within a single week, Tokyo rock heroes Guitar Wolf, DMBQ, and Electric Eel Shock will converge on Midtown Memphis. It sounds like Godzilla vs. Mothra vs. Megalon or an excerpt from Philip K. Dick's The Man in the High Castle, which portrayed post-WWII America under a Japanese regime. Sci-fi theories aside, this Asian garage-rock invasion is purely coincidental, a fringe-benefit fallout from bookings surrounding the Austin music festival South By Southwest.
Formed in 1987, Guitar Wolf (guitarist Seiji, bassist Billy, and drummer Toru) have released nine albums over the last 12 years. Domestically, several are available from the New York-based Matador Records, while the band's latest full-length, Love Rock, was just released on the independent Narnack label. In Japan, Guitar Wolf are a bona-fide pop phenomenon with a Sony Records deal and their own brand of designer jeans, while stateside, the group's devotion to basic rock-and-roll chording, love for grueling, grinding feedback, and penchant for rockabilly-styled breakdowns has made them a favorite act on the garage-rock scene.
In 1993, the leather-clad trio made their vinyl debut, Wolf Rock, on the Memphis-based Goner label, and, over the last decade, they've delivered memorable shows at the Antenna club, Barristers, and, one traffic-stopping afternoon, in the Shangri-la Records parking lot. Local auteur John Michael McCarthy recruited the band to play themselves in his Sore Losers film and eventually shot videos for three of their songs, including "Invader Ace," which was captured live at the Map Room.
"Guitar Wolf adopted Memphis, and Memphis sort of adopted them," says Eric Friedl, owner of Goner Records. "They're interested in the scene here, because they know this is where all the music came from -- everything from Elvis Presley to Booker T. & the MGs. It's a typical thing, but they managed to tap into it on a deeper level somehow."
Despite -- or perhaps in spite of -- their Japanese citizenship, McCarthy believes that Seiji, Billy, and Toru live up to the American pop-culture credo that Presley personified. "They've got that cartoon stance, distorted delivery, and iconic presence," he notes. "Some people are waiting for Jesus Christ. I'm waiting for Guitar Wolf." Luckily, the filmmaker's vigil won't last long. Guitar Wolf are scheduled to hit the stage at the Young Avenue Deli Monday, March 21st.
DMBQ -- aka the Dynamite Masters Blues Quartet -- have also been stomping around Toyko's music scene since the late 1980s. A heavy-riffing, psychedelic-rock outfit, DMBQ portray an MC5-like yin to Guitar Wolf's Ramones-inspired yang: The songs on their brand-new U.S. debut, The Essential Sounds From the Far East (Estrus Records), reverberate with carefully cultivated fuzz, improvised screaming, and the funkiest garage noise this side of Detroit, circa 1969.
In Japan, frontman Shinji Masuko, guitarist Toru Matsui, bassist Ryuichi Watanabe, and drummer China enjoy major-label popularity. Here, like Guitar Wolf, they're relegated to cult-fave status. But as purveyors of Motor City-meets-Mudhoney-styled hard rock, they've carved their own niche out of the contemporary indie scene. Currently on a two-month-long U.S. tour, DMBQ will perform at the Young Avenue Deli next Wednesday, March 23rd, along with the Oscars and the Immortal Lee County Killers.
Fans will face a difficult choice that night: DMBQ at the Deli or Electric Eel Shock at the Hi-Tone Café. That's right -- yet another Japanese group, metal-music sensation Electric Eel Shock, is making its way to Memphis. Will the last band left in Tokyo please turn out the lights?
Not that the members of Electric Eel Shock are strangers on these shores. Since forming the band in 1997, vocalist/guitarist Aki Morimoto, bassist Kazuto Maekawa, and drummer Tomoharu "Gian" Ito have toured more than 21 countries, including the U.S., multiple times. Their latest album, Go USA!, was produced by Attie Bauw (of Scorpions and Judas Priest fame) and released on San Francisco's Gearhead label earlier this month.
With lyrics like "Maybe we can beat Nirvana/Maybe the Presidents of the U.S.A./I play faster than Eddie Van Halen" (on the song "Rock'n'Roll Can Rescue the World") plus a naked drummer and a fish-loving lead singer, Electric Eel Shock is poised to be this week's silliest import. But one listen to Go USA! confirms that this group also rocks the hardest. Think Metallica with a much-needed injection of nonsensical wit. Illogical song titles like "I Wanna Be a Black Sabbath Guy, But I Should Be a Black Bass," "Japanese Meets Chinese in USA," and "Waaaa" might not make sense, but Electric Eel Shock's speeded-up riffs, comedic burps, and head-banging beats transcend the language barrier to make for a perfect musical translation.