The Wolfmother show last week was invigorating, and it wasn’t the heat—it was the androgens. Fighting my way through the sold-out show at Exit/In, something was swiftly apparent: it was a total snake pit. Dudes of all kinds—OK, mostly white dudes—were everywhere, knocking back beers, smokin’ cigs and emanating dude pheromones, that heady mix of sweat, emotional unavailability and machismo. (Single ladies, take note.) Even a chick friend—undoubtedly influenced by the chemical onslaught—commented that the bands were so hot that she had a “major boner.” The very language she used to describe her own sexual response must have been impoverished because testosterone was squeezing all the oxygen out of the room.
First off, the Wolf’s appearance in town was long overdue. Media were hot on that scent six months ago. My own snarky cooler-than-thou disclosure: I heard the band in February, pre-SXSW/Coachella buzz, when I still lived in Los Angeles. A comrade with a straight shot to the band’s Interscope rep scored the EP, along with the message that the band were about to—pardon the expression—explode. I didn’t catch them live, though, and it was musical blue balls back in Nashville, where our tertiary market was nowhere to be found among Wolf’s tour dates.
OK, so Wolfmother aren’t the saviors of rock, or even this generation’s Nirvana. (Apparently, some people feel that honor should be bestowed on My Chemical Romance—tsk tsk.) They’re really too derivative for that. Say what you will about Nirvana, but they borrowed astutely and recombined their influences with an eye toward innovation. Wolfmother are your basic scorching desert rockers who haven’t abandoned their influences enough—it’s Black Sabbath’s death stomp, Led Zeppelin’s itchy, libidinal pulse and Deep Purple’s sludgy wankery. But it’s brilliantly and passionately played, and I’ll take that any day over more forward-thinking, navel-gazing indie rock with vintage organs and a frenetic shrill (exception made for Arcade Fire). It’s the old passionate vs. innovative argument, and, in the end, passion is far more reliable.
What’s more, they’re a power trio—economical, tidy and fierce—the Hemingway of rock, if you will. Wolfmother have the kind of masculine swagger that puts the cock back in cock rock. And here’s where I’ll probably get myself into some kind of trouble, the kind that will have me stripped of my feminist insignia and exiled straight to Camille Paglia’s bosom: I just like rock better when men make it.
Now, hold your horses, dear reader. I am not discounting the Patti Smiths, the Chrissie Hyndes, the PJ Harveys, the Joan Jetts or the Janis Joplins—not for one consciousness-raising minute. Love it all and hold it near and dear. But, as a general rule, it is when women express via rock what are typically masculine sentiments—sex, aggression and rebellion—that I find myself drawn to their work. Thus my preference for Harvey’s tormented sex-fueled angst in the Rid of Me days over, say, anything from the annals of Tori Amos’ hand-wringing confessionals.
Who’s with me? Rock, after all, is a male construct, primarily a male form. Granted, it took some 20 years after rock debuted for women to make any real headway. Though they’ve since contributed equal parts awesome to music in general, after 50 some-odd years, there’s a reason that, for instance, there’s still no widely regarded female Jimi Hendrix. Every watershed musical moment in electric rock guitar playing—correct me if I’m wrong—has come from a man, whether it’s tapping, feedback or shredding.
Hey, maybe it’s just that there’s not even another male Jimi Hendrix. But it’s more likely that it’s a combination of things I’m fairly unqualified to determine with a minor in Women’s Studies. What is the elusive influence of gender on artistic temperament? What sex differences in the brain compel throngs of solitary boys to pick up a guitar at 12 and while away hours and years on the perfection of the instrument? Meanwhile women, armed with an innate knack for expression, seem less inclined to gravitate toward an instrument to convey emotion until, if at all, years later. There is also the question of the precise correlation between the arc of a great guitar solo and male sexual climax, between guitar-shredding perfection and the dominant urge, between rock posturing and the very male, i.e., phallic, figure it cuts onstage.
I’m certain a female guitarist could (does?) exist with Hendrix’s technical capability, but would she write “Fire?” Would we want her to? When men and women approach the pen or the sword, vastly different things happen, as history has shown. Again, it’s not a value judgment but an observation and a preference.
I’ll take vitality over emotion in my cup o’ rock any day. When done correctly, rock is a wink and the middle finger, a sneering, blistering sexual impulse exaggerated to a cartoonish masculine proportion. And the farther removed I get from anything resembling delicate teen angst, the more I want my rock served to me straight, with no chaser. This is probably why I’ve all but abandoned my old Cure records for a series of straight-up, sick garage-rock bands. Because rock should be thrilling and dangerous and downright illicit. In the end, I guess what I want to get from it is exactly what my lady friend got looking at Wolfmother—one major boner.