Last we left off with an account of Hans Condor’s set at The Blind Tiger club in Greensboro, NC. The boys brought every ounce of aggression and over-the-top stage antics that were present at the show I saw in Japan. It was raunchy, raucous R’n’R! But I was unsure how Guitar Wolf would be able to follow it up with something comparable in energy.
The garage punk trio took the stage in an odd way. In T.REX masks! In bad taste, check. Not taking themselves seriously, check. Idiosyncratic, check. Unsuspected, again check! Right from the gate they were doing everything right! Without disrobing, so to speak, they played through a few songs and began the sonic assault characteristic of Guitar Wolf hits. After the first few songs, they removed the masks and continued their set, all the while interspersing newer tracks from their LP ‘T-Rex From A Tiny Space Yojouhan’ (Don’t ask me what it means?!?!). The highlights of the show were stage dives by Seiji ‘Guitar Wolf’ including a fantastic (in the term’s most classical meaning) foray into the crowd by walking on hands (stuff I thought only Iggy Pop could pull off!) and not to mention, a solo encore performance of requested songs with distorted, crackling guitar and vocals.
After the show, I stuck around and I got the guys from Hans Condor and Guitar Wolf to sign a gig poster, as well as their respective LPs before they hit the road. Since that time, I have been keeping an eye out for more shows from the Hans Condor lot and have been found wanting. It seems they don’t play much anymore and may have disbanded. Their personal and band social media sites have all but disappeared and my attempts to contact them through various extant pages have all but failed.
I’ve been all too aware the past ten or so years of the difficulty of establishing a band in the public consciousness throughout the southeast as many of my friends and friends of friends whiled away in obscurity, playing shows to ten people and releasing albums to little or no critical response. Although I always kowtowed in conversation (“Yeah, i know. It sucks. More people should come out and see shows. etc. etc. blah, blah, blah.”), in thought the more pressing idea has always been “Well, so what? No wonder.” Almost no one is playing powerful immediate music. Most bands are composed of terrible songwriters with no voice or at least points of reference to important music. Many play sub-sub-genres with no crossover appeal to the general public. And furthermore, on the consumer side of the equation, the general public is fed on a steady stream of terrible radio music in the form of southern-pop, hip-pop, rap-pop, rock-pop, etc. And none of it is even good pop!!! Rock and roll just can’t connect with a crowd like that!
The rhetoric here lost its sway in the face of the poor public reception given to Hans Condor. They whiled away in obscurity for years from 2007 and on until the early 2010s, touring constantly in what I gather was something of a Black Flag attempt to gain momentum through a constant presence in clubs, dives, bars, and other music venues throughout the country. They received write-ups through independent blogs pretty consistently, were named group with best frontman through local Nashville press last year, and toured with one of Japan’s best established punk acts both in Japan and stateside. And all to no avail. The sort of energy and material, the quality, that Hans Condor brings didn’t rise above that of deep underground recognition.
Defeated, tired, jaded, worn, rung-out, beaten, dejected, disappointed, I finish what is hopefully only the first chapter in a much longer discussion of Hans Condor as personal myth and legend, and eventually, potentially, a live and touring reality once again. But I’m not optimistic. The only thing that drug public audiences momentarily away from the sickeningly-sweet-bubblegum-pop-infested wasteland of late 80s, early 90s sonic drivel mass-produced for our stupefaction was a series of movements beginning with overrated grunge and culminating in a rock revival with roots in blues, glam, and proto-punk by groups like The White Stripes, The Hives, The Hellacopters, and The Makers amongst many others.
A movement is needed, but cannot be formed intentionally. The connections have to be drawn by rock writers and critics with integrity (a contradiction in terms? maybe), driven by immediate acts with the live power to draw audiences organically, and supported by promoters ready and willing to book shows with multiple great acts (rather than a good headliner and weak, trivial openers) and also willing to promote those shows (a no-brainer, its their money on the line so why lose it by not advertising?). Will it happen? Probably not. But one can only hope.
We last left off in Osaka, Japan, at the Rocket’s Club where I saw three great rock acts put on one hell of a show. The legendary noise rock band Guitar Wolf, the tight King Brothers, and the wild Hans Condor.
I missed the rest of the Condor’s dates on this Japanese tour because of obligations to classes I had in Kyoto (obligations I probably should and could have blown off without too heavy repercussions). Unbeknownst to me at the time, just a short 10 months later Guitar Wolf would headline an American tour with Hans Condor as their main support act.
Sunday, August 28th. Greensboro, North Carolina. The Blind Tiger club. I have been ranting and raving about Hans Condor, Guitar Wolf, and the show in Osaka for months to anyone who will listen. And I think I’ve managed to excite my friend Owen and my father Mad Brother Ward about the prospect of seeing these two bands play live. At any rate, I’ve roped them into making the trip out to see the show.
We arrive and make our way toward the club, where I see Drum Wolf standing outside taking a smoke break. I self-consciously approach him and tell him how excited I am to see the show and wish him good luck. We’ve arrived pretty early, so we buy our tickets and head over to a nearby Sonic for some quick fuel before the show.
When we return, the opening act, The Paint Fumes, are setting up. Chazz and Erik of Hans Condor are hanging around the merch table so I introduce them to my entourage and buy their new EP “The Sandwich,” plus a cassette, and a few t-shirts. Owen and I get some Pabst and sober down (as opposed to sobering up!) a bit for the show.
The Paint Fumes go for a stripped down, 60’s Detroit sound a la The MC5. But the Jack White approach the frontman takes with his off-brand Japanese guitar backfires as the thing doesn’t stay in tune very well. The classic hardcore punk band Bad Brains had a big weakness during live shows: they interspersed aggressive fast-tempo punk with slower reggae tunes, which always slowed down what could of been a more riotous, rock and roll atmosphere. The Paint Fumes are in a similar situation with occasional forays into slower groove and psychedelic tunes (a move The Stooges could pull off well, but few others). All in all, they perform well and the audience seems to dig some of the material despite these concerns.
Next up, Hans Condor! The club is filled nowhere near capacity and I can tell the initial lack of energy from the audience affects the band’s performance. However, The Condor isn’t inhibited for long. Chazz belts out verse after verse, riff after riff, and solo after solo with increasing intensity until a select group of audience members toward the front begin to respond in kind. Chazz throws his guitar to an old friend in the crowd mid-song and climbs atop the club’s impressively tall amplifier stacks. Meanwhile, the kid in the crowd is moving on all gears, soloing in time with the track and of a notable virtuosity. Chazz gives the signal and the guy lauches the guitar in mid-air as Chazz leaps from the speaker, catches the guitar, and falls to the ground in something like an 8 to 10 foot drop… And starts back into the song! This is aggressive, this is raw, this is immediate, THIS IS ROCK And ROLL!
A few songs later, Chazz pulls some of the more engaged patrons onstage. We dance, slam dance, and try our best to get the energy feedback loop between musician and audience going strong. I see a beer can someone has lobbed on the stage, And in my twin stupor of PBR buzz and ritual liminality autopilot (that primal thing that happens at a show), I pick it up and bite a chunk out of it before launching it right back into the crowd. Shortly thereafter, we all hustle off the stage and back in front of it. My hand stings and I realize I’ve cut it pretty deeply with the beer can. I’ve also busted my lip. I bleed on the stage and continue to enjoy the rest of the set.
Set-up for big bands is almost always longer than for opening acts or even headliners at small shows. And this show is no different. As such, I have plenty of time to wash off, clean my hand, congratulate the guys in Hans Condor on a great set, and buy some more merch. (My dad also gives them kudos on their set, and if you know him, you know they must of been good). All this before Guitar Wolf takes the stage. And man do they have one tough act to follow!
(To Be Concluded: HERE )
Rock and roll is vital music. If it isn’t vital and immediate it is making a false claim. That appellation of rock and roll to the music and performance of Hans Condor was, I found out, apt.
Time: October, 11th 2015. Place: Rocket’s Club, Downtown Osaka, Japan. After Hans Condor, King Brothers play their set. The guitarist crowd surfs through at least half of the material. Towards the end of the set, the drummer lobs his kit, piece by piece, into the crowd. The band wades off-stage into the undulating wave of audience members. Their stage antics narrowly raise the ante on those of Hans Condor and the crowd is definitely into it, but the music doesn’t connect on the same primal level as that of the raw power of The Condor. This seems odd on the face of it, as King Brothers is a Japanese band whose music is relatively popular in Japan and would most likely be more familiar to the audience. But the vitality present in their set was tenfold in that of Hans Condor.
Finally, Guitar Wolf takes the stage and audience involvement increases significantly as the frontman and guitarist, Seiji ‘Guitar Wolf’, belts out classic hit after hit. I realize now that audience recognition can occasionally have the opposite effect of limiting energy. Especially, if every song is eminently singable and the crowd exerts energy on that task rather than moshing, slam-dancing, and other such activities. But not so for this band who play all aggro and get that energy feedback loop going strong with the crowd.
The highlight of their set for me was when Seiji launched himself offstage into the crowd and landed square on the bridge of my nose. It wasn’t a high point in some masochistic sense, but because of the novelty of the experience. I remember feeling numb to the pain as the roaring blood came rushing into my face. At that point, I redoubled my efforts, pushed him high in the air above my head with the help of a few others, and sent him surfing along the crowd. If you haven’t already, check out their garage punk anthem “Jet Generation” for some context into their sound and energy.
Buzzed, bruised, and beaten, I left the show with a scratched camera lens, bent sunglasses, and a broken watch. (I dropped my camera at one point, but the maxim that the Japanese do not steal anything held true and I found it again between sets at the bar where someone had turned it in as lost.) But also with a few t-shirts and stickers, joy in having made some new friends and discovered some new bands, and a sense of having done something somehow both vital and ephemeral, compelling and inconsequential, life-or-death and trivial.
The old toad Bukowski called Proust a light-weight author because he never dealt squarely with matters of life and death like Faulkner, D.H. Lawrence, or himself. And maybe he’s correct as far as literature goes as it is more of a tangible art than that of playing music live. But maybe the key to this whole rock and roll thing is writing in sand. Writing, scrawling sonic odes in a deathhand that spreads as waves through space, thinning out their signals all along the way until they become indecipherable and inconsequential. Etching moments of the deepest grief and the highest exultation into dense fog-banks of memory only to be forgotten in time or in the final equalizer. The Stooges did it. The New York Dolls and The Dead Boys did it. Guitar Wolf did it. I hear Jesus Lizard could do it. And so could Hans Condor.
(To Be Continued)
(Find Part one Here )
Japan. October 11th, 2015. I cut out early from classes to make the trip to see Guitar Wolf play live, along with two unfamiliar opening acts: King Brothers and Hans Condor.
The destination: Osaka: the closest date near Kyoto. About 2 o’clock I made my way down to the Kyoto station for a long train ride and a subway to downtown Osaka where I commence to become COMPLETELY LOST! I walk around and tried to find my bearings for about an hour before giving up and asking for help.
Now, I can speak almost no Japanese today and knew even less then. To make matters worse, even though most Japanese profess to know some English due to its heavy emphasis throughout public school, very few know it well. So you can imagine how daunting this undertaking was at its outset. Luckily for me, I find two younger, college-aged guys who both speak a little English and are able to not only locate the direction I need to go in, but accompany me all the way there! (And later, attend the show and give me free drinks!!! Talk about Japanese hospitality!)
The venue is ‘Rockets Club’ and it is one of the seediest looking clubs I’ve ever seen. The front entrance is a hangout akin to a large bus-station complete with ticket booth and largely unkempt restrooms covered in graffiti and stickers. As I wait for doors, the area fills up with rockers and rockabilly types. This is the first time since I left the states that I’ve truly felt at home as the place reminds me of clubs like The Milestone and Tremont back home.
We enter the club and make a bee-line for the bar, where I commence to down a few shots of Suntory Whiskey and loosen up for the show. After a short wait, Hans Condor takes the stage and commences to launch a full-out sonic and physical assault on the audience. The frontman and guitarist lays down potent, blinding fast rock’n’roll interspersed with short, sweet, in your face solos, all while stage-diving and power-sliding. At one point, he throws his guitar into the audience, where an unexpecting kid catches it and is goaded into playing a two-finger solo. The frontman gives him a verbal queue to toss him the guitar as he launches himself off the stage and into the middle of the crowd. All the while, the bassist and drummer play on like machines at a breakneck pace and intersperse their own quirky personas. During one particularly roaring section, the bass builds to a crescendo and the guy swallows his lit cigarette and buckles down double time. I’m floored!
Numerous times during the set, audience members crowd surf and many make their way to the stage for some old-time rock-roll dancing (me included). I and a relatively large contingent of about 25 or so others become a wave of slam-dancing, stage-diving menace. This is the coolest audience I’ve ever been a part of! The band feeds off of the energy of the crowd and the crowd replies in kind in a symbiotic relationship I’ve only seen in videos from classic hardcore punk shows, but never seen in person. The set ends and the band ignores the sustained applause for another song, respectfully ceding time to their fellow bands.
I’m in awe. I’m ecstatic. I can barely contain my energy. So when the boys finish tearing down and convene around the merch table, I immediately make my way over, spend all my expendable cash on merch and start talking to them. The frontman, Chazz, tells me that they’re a southern band out of Nashville, Tennessee and that the tour is going really well. They find the audiences in Japan to be much more energetic than at a typical American venue. Erik, the bassist, is a real cool dude. We spend a long time talking about the band, AntiSeen, the differences between crowds here and in the states, and he invites me to come out to their show tomorrow in Tokyo. I’m strapped for cash and the trip out would cost around $200 american to ride out that way by train, so I ultimately couldn’t. I assure them that I’ll see them in the states when I get back and thank them all for the experience, wishing them luck on the rest of the tour.
What I wouldn’t give now to have spent those $200.
(To Be Continued: Here)
During my last fall semester in college I studied abroad in Japan. The trip to and from was pure hell, I worked my ass off reading for courses, and I traveled solo and with my program group a fair amount. Needless to say, there was little time for extra-curricular activity. However, there was one thing on my list of to-dos that topped all else: See Guitar Wolf play live!!!
If you haven’t heard of Guitar Wolf, then do yourself a favor and YouTube them now. They’re a Japanese trio with origins going back to 1987, but pulling largely from ’77 Punk, rockabilly, and garage with a look between The Ramones and Link Wray, and MAN do they put on one hell of a show! But this post ain’t about them. Its about a little known group out of Nashville who opened for them during their Fall Tour in Japan….
I had been in Japan for about 2 weeks and become somewhat acclimated to my apartment and the surrounding block or so of downtown Kyoto. I decided to take an afternoon off from my roaming about town to relax and use up some of my accommodation’s (very) limited wi-fi data to find out when and where Guitar wolf would be playing in Japan in the near future. I came across this:
Being unfamiliar with the opening acts, King Brothers and Hans Condor, I did a quick search online and hit the proverbial jackpot. The Bros. were an alright and tight rock group, but Condor were something else. Their off-the-cuff music video for their track “Time, Rhyme, or Reason” was a salute to all the proto-punk garage acts I had been immersing myself in for the past few months: Low-fi recording, blitzkrieg-tempo, auto-destructive art. It hearkened back to and championed the power of The MC5, the destructiveness and assuredness of The Who, the swagger of Thunders and the Dolls, The Dictator’s kitch, and I knew then that I HAD to see these guys in action….
/(To Be Continued Here)
The Kansai Kyoto-Osaka-Kobe region is a political, cultural, and economic power center at constant odds with the Eastern power center of Tokyo-Yokohama, which together with the central power center of Nagoya constitute around 1/2 of Japan’s population. Whereas Tokyo has been a political power center in Japan since before the Edo, or Tokugawa period (1600-1868), and has only become a force of industrial and cultural output since the postwar period, Osaka traditionally held cultural and economic hegemony. Osaka’s contemporary role in Japanese culture is a still a strong one however. Read More…