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Friday Aug. 6

What a disgrace! Talk about cruelty to animals! Three snarling, spitting wolves chained on a stage outside the La Foret shopping complex in the heart of Harajuku in the intense heat of a summer afternoon. They are surrounded by kids, perversely cheering and jumping around, wallowing in the misery of these poor animals. And then there’s the curious passersby who stop, stare, grimace and effectively run away, fearing that these animals might escape their bonds and tear out their throats. But it’s clear that everyone is totally fascinated by this bizarre spectacle. The wolves seem to be hooked into speakers via rubber cords so their howls are amplified and echo down Meiji-Dori, terrifying those “not in the know.”

This is Guitar Wolf. And they are here, outside HMV, as part of the promotion for new album “Loverock.” It’s arguably their best album to date in that it’s so manic, mental, screwed-up that it makes all these other garage-punk-blues wannabes sound like babies weeping in a crib. Oh, and talking about babies. The aftershow party is centered in a room at a nearby karaoke lounge and when I get there, Billy (the bassist) opts to bounce a baby on his knee rather than indulge in the copious amounts of beer flooding the room; and Seiji — Mr. Guitar Wolf himself — isn’t drinking so much either.

Musically, the new album reveals that these wolves are more ferocious than ever, but they do have a lighter, mellower side, never before revealed. Seiji demands we soon do a big interview at an izakaya while devouring several liters of sake and a couple of newborn babies. I guess you’re gonna have to watch this space.

Saturday Aug. 7

Friday’s meaty rock ‘n’ roll meal in Harajuku means that I missed the first day of the Rock in Japan festival and that kinda pissed me off because I’m a big fan of of the garage-pop of Go!Go!7188, the indie synth-pop of Beat Crusaders and the art-pop dabblings of Polysics. Also, I heard, I missed this: The High-Lows injecting some real rock into what is basically a mainstream-music festival; thousands of girls rushing to the front of the stage for pop sensation Naotaro Moriyama (256 boys were trampled to death in the stampede — errr, someone said); and the Beat Crusaders and Ketsumeishi constantly referring to certain non-musical organs that only women possess. Using such crude language suggests that maybe they are not getting enough futon action.

But I am here on Saturday early afternoon for a pleasant stroll in the park.

This is Japan’s most well-attended music festival and 131,192 people turned up over the three days at Kokuei Hitachi Kaihin Koen in Ibaraki. The age demographic here seems to be 16 to 22, while Japan’s other major music fest, Fuji Rock, attracts rowdier fans in their mid to late ’20s. Here in the park, nobody is drunk! Nobody is on drugs! And I seem to be the only gaijin (although I heard others were spotted during the weekend). And it’s freaking me a little! People eye me suspiciously, seemingly unable to comprehend why this gaijin dude has wandered into this park to feast on Japanese music.

There’s two big surprises today: Relative newboys Asian Kung Fu Generation playing in front of their biggest ever crowd and despite their pretty average rock and lack of style managing to create one of the biggest moshpits of the weekend; and then TV comedian Gussan (Tomomitsu Yamaguchi) making a surprise appearance on the main Grass Stage, sandwiched between Back Drop Bomb and Kreva (errr, no comment on these bands, I don’t like them). But Gussan lifts my spirits: accompanied on stage by his best pal, an acoustic guitar, he cracks jokes and finishes his unfortunately brief 10-minute set with his famous song “Uchiage Hanabi (Immense Fireworks)” and I am on a “high.”

Now here’s a tough choice. Stay in Ibaraki to watch Dragon Ash or race back to Japan to catch 54 Nude Honeys at Shinjuku’s Club Wire? We “Get on the Bus,” although the Honeys don’t play that classic song off their second album at Wire. But I ask guitarist Kotome to play another early favorite, “Lid on my Head,” before the show and the band — currently operating between New York and Tokyo — oblige. Afterward, I happily help them sell T-shirts and they happily respond by letting me sink deep into their tank of booze backstage.

Sunday, Aug. 8

I’m back in Ibaraki the next morning and rolling around in the grass laughing after my mate tells me that Dragon Ash finished their set the night before with “Viva Revolution” and that singer Kenji cried during the show; overwhelmed, apparently by the excited crowd. And so he should be. It’s incomprehensible that this beyond-lame band is so famous.

But here on the final day of the festival the sun is blistering our skin. We cool off by pouring beer over each other, of course. Here at Rock in Japan the good vibes are massive. Isobe and Tekkin from Husking Bee turn up at a merchandise booth to sign T-Shirts; rising stars Tsubakiyashijyuso play bits of the songs “Rakeun” and “Burn” by Yellow Monkey during their sound check in honor of a legendary Japanese band (the Monkey played the first typhoon-ravaged Fuji Rock) who announced their breakup Aug. 2; and, oh, heart-throb Tamio Okuda celebrating 10 years as a solo artist by doing his own stuff as well as churning out songs by his former band Unicorn. He’s got a reputation of chatting to the audience but due to the tight schedule the promoters — the magazine Rockin’ On — allegedly told him to keep his mouth shut (well, when he wasn’t singing).

Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra were the perfect band to close the festival with their upbeat dancey vibes.

And then we race back to Tokyo for Anadorei’s final live show. Singer/guitarist Erieza used to staple pictures on the walls of livehouses which showed her using sexual instruments on male slaves; she also used to play live topless; and sometimes wearing a rubber dildo. Those days are long over. After Anadorei’s sayonara gig at Shinjuku’s DOM, she told me she was going solo. And she was talking about her guitar, voice, and immense punk-rock attitude rather than anything else.

Simon Bartz welcomes comments through his Web site at www.badbee.net

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