Mugen Hoso Might Be The Greatest Live Band We’ve Ever Seen.
To someone reflexively averse to hype, let alone fundamentally suspicious of groupthink, it’s tempting to resist the superlatives that persistently buzz like flies around Mugen Hoso, the Japanese garage punk duo that headlined Three Links Saturday night.
Were they the “best band of the 2014 Elm Street Tattoo and Music Festival?” Could they really deliver the quote-unquote greatest live show I’ve ever seen, as another local writer suggested to me beforehand?
With only the most minor contextual equivocations, I can now say the answer to both is a resounding yes.
The kineticism that Hiro (guitar/vocals) and Taro (drums/vocals) deliver from the very first song of their set is a distillation of spring-loaded rock ‘n’ roll joy. They start things by taking their shirts off, but somehow instead of looking like a cock-rock affectation, their gestures and smiles — they have a serviceable but small English vocabulary that’s still probably 10 times as big as the average American’s knowledge of the Japanese language — that make it clear that they’re about to go all-in for the mostly-Japanese language set that still somehow verges on sing-along territory, even to the unfamiliar.
Hiro has stripped-down his rig to one amp, a pedal or two and a Strat with the neck and middle pickups removed. He probably would’ve hard-wired the cable to the whole thing if it wasn’t more important that it “break away” as he careened across and off the stage. And break away it did, though Hiro kept pounding away at the string until he or someone else managed to get it all plugged back in. Taro never missed a beat, and neither one of them seemed to ever stop smiling.
So what does it sound like? The overall sonic range probably isn’t so different from other bass-less duos of the last decade or so. It’s less sonically ambitious than Local H, and more raw than the White Stripes. Musical homages to American classic rock and blues weave their way ever so subtly through the set’s mostly avant garde tumult and betray considerable instrumental aplomb.
Elements from the Stones’ “Let’s Spend the Night Together” and Lou Reed’s “Walk on the Wild Side” went over especially well. Yet the core guitar sounds are downright ragged, which is of course complementary to Hiro’s levitating pinball choreography. Still, it’s not hard to imagine Hiro nailing his stab at Van Halen’s “Eruption” flawlessly while attempting a series of backflips.
And if you wonder what they’re saying that has everyone jumping and cheering and chanting along with them, the answer is not much — and, also, everything. Mugen Hoso has managed to latch on to the most fundamental of self-affirming words (and sounds) that express the spirit of the music they love and play; after all, what could be more rock ‘n’ roll than shouting, singing and chanting “rock ‘n’ roll!” without a trace of irony or self-consciousness. Their spirit and their smiles are absolutely infectious, and the audience is powerless to resist when it comes time to shout “Ichiban!”
Of course, they weren’t the only ones on the bill who like rock ‘n’ roll. Dallas rock vets The American Fuse never fail to entertain, even as (and probably because) they confer between every couple of songs to adapt the setlist to the vibe of the crowd at hand — “Don’t Chingale My Chevrolet” remains every bit the sing-along hit it has been since the ’90s. Fort Worth sent its own veterans, the award-winning The Dangits, over for some Mötorhead-style rock. And Wichita Falls’ And It Hurts to be Dead was all business as it opened the bill with a set full of confident, well-crafted songs that belies their first impression as a punk-inspired garage rock three-piece.
But none of those held a candle to the dynamic duo that was Mugen Hoso. The three openers were each terrific in their own rights, sure. Good as they were, though, none were in that all-time great stratosphere like the Mugen Hoso boys.
As much as we were in the skeptics camp beforehand, we’re now begrudgingly members of that club insisting that there’s no amount of hype these two will fail to live up to.