Listen Up: Wednesday, December 26, 2002
A D V E R T I S E M E N T
A D V E R T I S E M E N T
Thee Michelle Gun Elephant

Rodeo Tandem Beat Specter (Alive Records)

By Ken Shimamoto

You gotta love those clever Japanese. Whether they’re buying up all our expensive vintage gear or adopting whole-hog the trappings of any musical style we or the Brits manage to dream up, those folks are a hoot — although sometimes you get the impression that they don’t really “get it.” (Guitar Wolf, anybody?)

Which makes Thee Michelle Gun Elephant such a stunning surprise. They seem to understand how strange it is to be a Japanese band playing ’70s-style punk rock. Their name is a Japonification of an album title from the British punk band the Damned: That original disc was Machine Gun Etiquette. More importantly, they’ve managed to grasp the essential elements of real rock ’n’ roll — the kind of stuff trendy Scandinavians are always trying to mimic. They’ve captured the sabre-toothed fury of the MC5, Stooges, et al. better than almost anybody since the originals themselves.

It must be weird to be TMGE: playing stadiums in their home country before tens of thousands of berserk fans, then coming here to pull a hundred people, if they’re lucky, at Club Clearview. Between 1995 and 2000, they released no fewer than six full-length c.d.’s on major label Nippon Columbia; here, tiny Alive has released only 1998’s explosive Gear Blues and a compilation of earlier and later stuff.

On this relative newie, Rodeo Tandem Beat Specter, released in Japan two years ago, TMGE continue mining the same vein with a few adjustments. The classic guitar-bass-drums unit still blasts and thumps with the momentum of an out-of-control bullet train, while singer Yusuke Chiba still sounds angry at the world. You don’t have to understand what he’s saying to know that he doesn’t like it here. That’s good, since all the songs are sung in Japanese. A couple of Morricone-ish instrumentals show that TMGE has range as well as rage.

Kikko-Man would approve.


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