Guitar Wolf Rickshaw Theatre, Vancouver BC, October 9

Guitar Wolf Rickshaw Theatre, Vancouver BC, October 9
Photo: Steve Louie
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Guitar Wolf have been at this "jet rock'n'roll" thing since 1987, and it shows. They burned the Rickshaw down with a veritable encyclopaedia of the classic rock spectacle. To build anticipation, they played some of their Spinal Tap/Tenacious D level videos on the house screens between bands, as their fans howled at the ceiling. Eventually, the Japanese power trio strutted onstage in their sunglasses and leather jacket/pants combo to the sounds of "Cretin Hop" by the Ramones, and it was on.

With 26 years of road warrior scars on their auras, their incomparable showmanship was apparent from the start. Seiji (aka Guitar Wolf) looked like he was chiselled out of marble as he stood on a stack and yelled the crowd into a "hey" chant. When he finally settled into playing his axe, he was off the charts, often mangling chords and phrases for the sake of rocking out. He'd play guitar behind his head, windmill like a bastard, and raise his goblet of rock after strumming power chords.

U.G. and Toru held their own as the rhythm section. U.G. rocked pick-slides on the bass like they were going out of style, and got in on some synchronized arm raises with Seiji. Toru gave the definition of tribal drumming, brutalizing his kit as if it dissed his mama. The guy was working so hard, he had to shed his jacket before launching into fevered take on "Fighting Rock" from 2007's Dead Rock, freeing him up to drift the tempo faster and faster.

It was hard to take your eyes off Seiji, though. The guy proved himself worthy of the Guitar Wolf title as he worked the stage like he was doing battle. A dread-y stagehand with good patience had to fix the mic a couple times when it lost a bout with Seiji. At one point, Seiji wound up his guitar like a baseball bat, and proceeded to hit balls into the crowd, making his axe a twang each time he connected.

Near the end of the set, Seiji picked a guy out of the crowd by way of thumb war. He dragged him onstage, put his guitar on him, said a prayer to the rock gods as he gave him his pick, and the random guy rocked out perfectly on cue (the guy was also wearing a leather suit, so he was likely a ringer). This allowed Seiji to dive into the crowd, gain his footing, stand almost straight up, and have the stagehand give him a mic so he could sing like Jesus walking on water. When he returned to the stage, Seiji threw his replacement back into the crowd, and commenced shredding like he was trying to turn his guitar into kindling.

The real test for Seiji came about an hour into their set, when a carelessly tossed beer car floated up and smacked him on the chest. Despite this cliché audience disgrace, he didn't stop rocking, proving conclusively to the modestly assembled crowd that he was more punk than Buzz Osborne.

Given the physical nature of their performance, the frequent hiccups were easily forgivable. It's all about the show with these guys. Not a moment was wasted tuning. They're like Steel Panther for late '70s punk, but all three members are Sid Vicious, mixing the hard traveled showmanship of Monotonix and the manga surrealism of Sex Bob-Omb. This is what happens when you play a 33 RPM cut of "Rumble" by Link Wray backwards, at double speed, after the record spent an afternoon on the front seat of a candy apple red '57 Chevy in the blistering California sun.