Crimewave vs. Wolfmother 

Spark up your gravity bongs: It's a freedom-rock fight to the finish.

The veins in Steve Krakow's neck pulse with acid rock. - LOU MUENZ
  • Lou Muenz
  • The veins in Steve Krakow's neck pulse with acid rock.
Wolfmother's website claims "The true rebirth of the power trio is upon us," but that's nothing but a smoking pile of PR bullshit. Sure, that singer's got a set of pipes on him. But if you're a freak for them freedom-rock daze -- biker rock, psychedelia, boogie, proto-metal -- you know the cuddly Wolfies jam more like the Knack strumming power chords than Cream/Grand Funk Railroad reincarnate.

But no one seems to slam these pseudo-rock gods for false marketing. That's probably because so few of their fans and detractors have actually heard classics like Grand Funk and Wheels of Fire. They simply hang out at the local indie hole, sporting vintage-rock tees and skintight denim. There they gingerly sip the workingman's beer and utter stuff like, "Dude, if you like Sabbath and Zep, then you gotta check out Wolfmother."

This is all Jack White's fault. Wolfmother not only borrowed the stomp featured in "Joke & the Thief" from the White Stripes, but the band also nicked White's con: selling what's essentially new wave as music soaked in gritty tradition. With a gift for crafting MTV pop (and nothing more), White has consistently fed gullible music writers stories about digging authentic blues -- as if the candy-striped geek had been picking cotton all day long and hollerin' Negro spirituals alongside Son House.

But let's get back to the rock.

Meet Steve Krakow -- aka Plastic Crimewave -- a dude who eats and shits the rock Wolfmother merely feigns. Case in point: "I actually have a Doors tattoo that I got when I was 17," he says via phone from his Chicago pad. At first he sounds hesitant to make such an admission. Despite helping invent psych rock, hard rock, and punk, the Doors and their supporters receive constant flak from the hip. But once Krakow learns he's talking to a fellow Lizard King fanatic, he opens up. "I maybe gave them up for like 10 years. Then I read that [underground Japanese guitarist] Keiji Haino was once in a Doors cover band. Those first two albums are perfect."

Krakow should know. In addition to maintaining an insanely huge record collection, he transmutes his twin obsessions for heavy music and comics into Galactic Zoo Dossier (published by the Drag City imprint). Exploding with his dense illustrations -- which can also be seen in the Chicago Reader -- each issue of GZD is a manic stream-of-consciousness archive of the greatest psych and boogie bands we've never heard of -- like Stackwaddy, a group of Brit bruisers from the early '70s who molested audiences with their plodding, grease-caked blues yelp.

Consequently, the success of GZD -- as well as Krakow's ties to Japanese acid rockers Acid Mothers Temple -- have saddled his own band, Plastic Crimewave Sound, with a minor yet definite image issue, one that's the polar opposite of Wolfmother's. Plastic Crimewave is too often tagged as the very thing Wolfmother desperately wants to be: a fuzzed-out, retro-psych/stoner-rock beast. But the reality is this: The band also socks the 'nads like freaky proto-punkers and aggressive late-'80s sludge.

"I like Black Flag and Flipper and all that Cleveland stuff -- Rocket From the Tombs and the Electric Eels," Krakow explains, mentioning bands that transcended the punk/hippie dichotomy. "Not everyone picks up on that. But then, we do whip out these little folkie songs. I love Bert Jansch and Fred Neil."

On the surface, Plastic Crimewave Sound's last release, 2006's sprawling double-LP No Wonderland, does look and sound like Arthur's wet dream. The beaming red gatefold comes tattooed in quasi-Eastern imagery and Crowleyian symbolism (a Jimmy Page favorite). And with each side opening with a pretentious spoken-word passage (from the likes of Devendra Banhart and Tara Burke, no less) and featuring such LSD-spiked song titles as "Flower Eating Dreams" and "Far In/Out," you'd swear on your mama's love beads that you were listening to classic American stoners. We're talking about dudes who grew up waking 'n' baking to The Soft Parade. But beneath the droning sitars, harps, and electric washboards lurks a blunt, rhythmic brutalism: Call it krautrock Bo Diddley for hairy-backed Neanderthals.

But this isn't just about Krakow and company attempting to reconcile divergent influences. The punk-as-fuck simplicity is intentional; it prevents his band from ever unwittingly becoming a carbon copy of one of its hippie heroes. Krakow's logic: If you can't play like them, then you sure as hell can't rip them off.

"That's one reason why I justify keeping myself not an extraordinary musician, per se -- because I probably would find myself copying this stuff or being directly influenced by them. I definitely have influences, but I can't directly translate them," explains Krakow, who purchased his first guitar and wah-wah pedal at age 18, so he could rock out like the Stooges.

Of course, some astute wiseacre reading this is wondering If Wolfmother are new wavers pretending to be Cream, and Plastic Crimewave Sound are psych-heads digging punk, then what's the big diff? Well, it's really only a matter of degree. Featuring monster-bassist Mark Lux (formerly of Temple of Bon Matin), Plastic Crimewave's stomp rocks way more convincingly, while also drawing from a far deeper well of sounds. The band knows inside and out the rock and roll history that its Australian counterparts think they know. And even if they they don't possess the chops of their influences, No Wonderland is evidence that they are (unlike the Wolfies) seriously committed to progressive experimentation -- a litmus test for any band that claims to love the Woodstock era.

But what the 'Mother has that Krakow needs badly is production. Though the actual tune blows, the sound of "Joker & the Thief" is just so perfectly sculpted -- massive, too. The last two discs from Plastic Crimewave Sound, by contrast, have been mired in mud, lacking the definition and the overblown outrageousness needed to inspire max-volume worship.

It's kind of an unfair criticism: Wolfmother is Interscope-loaded, and Plastic Crimewave Sound simply is indie-poor. But hell, Crushed Butler -- which looked like it ate dog food night and day -- was flat broke when it recorded the thunderous "It's My Life" back in 1969. And yes, that's an obscure reference. But it's criticism a record-collecting nerd like Krakow totally gets.

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