Friday, January 30
Shonen Knife, from Osaka, Japan, first formed in 1981 – still up front, still leading the female pop-punk trio is vocalist/guitarist Naoko Yamano, since 2006 she’s had Ritsuko Taneda adding bass and vocals and since 2010 Emi Morimoto’s been spanking the tubs at the back.
There are 20 albums in the band’s back-catalogue – a handful with this current line-up, including, most recently 2012’s Pop Tune and last year’s Overdrive. We hear plenty from those recent albums and it’s right back to when the band found its second-wave-of-grunge heyday with 1997’s Brand New Knife and 1998’s Happy Hour.
There’s something splendidly simple about Shonen Knife – no frills, charming, endearing. That charm goes a long way. In anyone else’s hands these would, mostly, be generic power-pop/(nearly) punk tunes. But with Shonen’s matching outfits and choreographed moves it’s silly fun and you can’t deny the hooks – even if a handful of the songs feel like the main compositional tools included crayons and grease-proof baking paper.
Something wonderful too, in that Japanese-world-of-pastiche way, is how Shonen Knife can draw a straight line from The Shadows to The Ramones, one you might never have thought existed previously. It’s there. And obvious – and you can see and hear it in Shonen’s music and stagecraft.
Even the titles are generic – Welcome To The Rock Club, Osaka Rock City – there’s more than a hint of KISS in the simplicity, and the stage moves, head-nods in unison, power-chord windmills, and on a brace of recent songs – said to be inspired by British 70s rock – the band sounded more like KISS than T-Rex, and only a little bit like Thin Lizzy.
The goofball, toss-off stuff is best though. The cheeky fun, the transliterated lyrics, non sequiturs, the devil horns going up at the beginning and end of every song, the drummer standing to power-crash the cymbals, no one told Shonen Knife the retro-rock fad was over. More importantly no one seemed to have ever told them it was ever a thing in the first place.