Rock and Roll Bestiary

You already know all about this year's crop of wolf bands. We examine the tiger, bear, shark and lion bands, and offer up a rock zodiac.

When it comes to naming bands, "wolf" is the new black. No fewer than eight wolf bands played at last month's potentially career-making CMJ Music Marathon in New York. Three of them -- AIDS Wolf, their Sub Pop labelmates Wolf Eyes (at Fat Cat's Thursday, see Playbill) and the much-ballyhooed Wolf Parade -- are from Montreal alone. Other lupine bands currently on the roam -- if not at CMJ -- include the Australian bands Wolf Mother and Wolf and Cub, the Will Oldham/Matt Sweeney supergroup Superwolf, Japanese garage punks Guitar Wolf and hip-hop MC Peanut Butter Wolf (in town December 17 at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston). Yet another band from Montreal is called We Are Wolves, while Washington, D.C., is home to We're Wolves.

But wait, there's more: Other current acts in the pack include Fuckwolf and Walter "Wolfman" Washington, Los Lobos (whose sung query "Will the Wolf Survive" now has an obvious answer) and yet another French-Canadian by the name of Jean Le Loup. Closer to home, Houston is home to Wolfeblitzer, while Wolf Pup, Wolfcookie, Wolf Van Styles, Wolf Powder and Wolfenriz roam other parts of Texas. And we won't even go into Steppenwolf, Peter Wolf or either of the two blues Howlin' Wolfs -- the famous one from Mississippi or the obscure older one from Fort Worth.

Chuck Klosterman examined the phenomenon through a sociological prism in a recent issue of Spin. His conclusion was no more nor less than this: A bunch of indie rockers have simultaneously decided that the word "wolf" is cool. But a closer examination of the facts reveals that it's not so much that musicians have decided that the word "wolf" is cool as it is that music critics, record labels and hypemeisters have all decided that wolf bands are cool. Wolf bands are no more plentiful right now than bands named after other critters.

Take tiger bands, for example. There seem to be even more of them out there right now than wolf bands, only most of them -- outside of Le Tigre and Los Tigres del Norte -- aren't playing packed shows or basking in the glory of a glowing Pitchfork review (again, outside of Le Tigre, if not Los Tigres in this case). And yet on Pollstar and MySpace you can still find plenty of working tiger indie rock bands such as Actual Tigers, Alaska the Tiger, When Tigers Fight, Oh No and the Tiger Pit, Tiger Saw, Tigers & Monkeys, So So Many White Tigers, Kissing Tigers, Tiger Love Kiss and Tiger vs. Crane, to say nothing of non-indie rockers like Selby Tigers.

Then there's lions. Here, outside of the famous example of Pedro the Lion, we find a beast more favored by other subcultures. The King of the Beasts has devotees ranging from hair metal (White Lion) to reggae (many, all riffing off "the Lion of Judah" Rasta motif) to Houston's own trip-hopper deluxe Lion 808 and local indie rockers Eyes Like Lions. Indie rock does represent, though: There are groups like Lions Eat Girls, Lion Fever, Lions and Tigers, and Lions of Thunder as well.

(An aside: Why is there no band yet called Liger vs. Wholphin? You could get four animals in your band name for the price of two, engage in the ever-popular trend of pitting two humorous beasts against each other, and reference Napoleon Dynamite in one snappy band name.)

Getting back on track: What of goats, you say? Outside of John Darnielle's Mountain Goats, fuhgeddaboutit. Dude, goats belong to death metal bands like Goatwhore, Goatslaughter, Goatfucker and Goathammer Abortion. End of story. (Well, not quite. There is a Christian death metal band called Goat of Moses. Really.)

But sharks and bears are another story. Kids, here is where the future lies. This Thursday, Minus the Bear plays at Walter's on Washington (right across the street from Wolf Eyes at Fat Cat's), and there are also active touring bands called Bear vs. Shark (at Fat Cat's October 19), which is not to be confused with Shark and Bear, Squirrel vs. Bear, We Versus the Shark or Houston supergroup Sharks and Sailors. Also, Sugar Land is the lair of Bear Claw TX, while Bear and the Essentials, Bears Talk About TV and the double whammy animal totem du jour Bearwolf also find native habitat in Texas.

"Bearwolf? Geez Louise," you say. "I guess next some band will be calling themselves Tiger Bear Wolf." Well, that's already happened. North Carolina's Tiger Bear Wolf played this year's CMJ with the rest of the wolf pack. And yes, there is already a band in California called Lions and Tigers and Bears and yet another in the same state called Lions Tigers and Bears and two more (one in Deer Park) called Lions and Tigers and Bears Oh My. Oh my, indeed!

But no doubt about it, the wolf pack is the one that's getting the buzz this year. Maybe the wolf bands are just better than the lion, tiger, bear, shark and goat bands, I don't know. But I don't think that there are any more of them, that's for sure. What's more, I think Klosterman may have erred in using so prosaic a research tool as sociology to arrive at this thesis. Clearly, a series of convergences of this magnitude requires a discipline that allows for a little more mystery and mysticism.

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