Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Memories of a thousand* gigs #18

(* probably not actually that many, but who’s counting?)

A change of plan. I’ve delayed my intended tale of a sweaty Lush gig in 1996 as I just had to tell you about a show I attended only last week…

#18: Shonen Knife
Clwb Ifor Bach, Cardiff – 15th May 2014
Support: Small Gang, Former Utopia
Also in attendance: Colin

There are many great unsolved mysteries in life:
- Where do Big Brother contestants actually come from? Do they grow them in laboratories or something?
- Why does the word "lisp" have an s in it?
- And how the hell can it be that so many people have still never heard of Shonen Knife?

It is to my eternal shame that it has taken until 2014 for me to actually see Shonen Knife in concert. Wayne saw them at the Reading Festival back in 1992 and couldn’t stop telling people how amazing they were. Since then I have sporadically encountered them and dipped into their catalogue without really paying them the attention they deserved. But the legend prevailed – whenever their name came up, their reputation as a live band would usually get a mention. 

The Shonen Knife legend was strong indeed. Kurt Cobain was, apparently, “transformed into a hysterical nine-year-old girl at a Beatles concert” when he attended a Shonen Knife gig. John Peel started playing their records before they had even played a show outside of Japan. Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore was responsible for taking them to the US for the first time. With fans like that, it’s little wonder word spread quickly and their reputation grew.

So earlier this year, when I saw they were coming to Cardiff, I took my chance and bought tickets. Turns out it was a damn good decision. While on record Shonen Knife can sound a little lightweight in places, rather twee and poppy in others, live they undoubtedly ROCK! The Ramones-esque punk-pop they are renowned for is intertwined with slow, dark riffs a la Black Sabbath, hardcore punk, 60s girl group vocals and riffs that any rock band would kill for.

Their set was neatly split into two halves; the first half featured recent songs, many of which feature on their new album ‘Overdrive’. A triptych of such tracks played back-to-back summed up the Shonen Knife experience: bassist Ritsuko sang a song about noodles (Ramen Rock), drummer Emi sang about green tea (in, erm, Green Tea), and legendary frontwoman Naoko sang about living life Like A Cat. What’s not to love?

Later on, they delved into the archive and gave an airing to classics like Twist Barbie, Riding On The Rocket and the utterly bonkers Cobra vs. Mongoose. Throughout, the well-rehearsed and choreographed stage show proved why Shonen Knife are regarded as highly as they are. The identical, self-designed costumes; the simulated headbanging; the twirling arms with devil’s horn fingers held aloft; the huge grins... if nothing else, Shonen Knife are great to watch.

They encored with a version of Blitzkrieg Bop that even Johnny, Joey et al would have been proud of before exiting the stage for good leaving me in that sadly rare state of wanting more; I would gladly have stood there and watched Shonen Knife all bloody night. After a pretty shitty and heavy week, this was a real tonic. The only disappointment was the size of the crowd – the venue was only half full. This pretty much sums up the state of the world; what a happier place it would be if everyone had a bit of Shonen Knife in their lives.

The word ‘trailblazers’ is often rightly used to describe Shonen Knife. Nearly every female rock and punk band of the last 20-odd years owes them a significant debt, yet Shonen Knife remain unique and distinctive. Seriously, if you’ve never seen them, make it your mission to do so before you die.


1 comment:

  1. A great band indeed and particularily their live recordings are awesome: have to get hold of this 'Live In New York' record, somehow I seem to have missed it up until now.

    Thanks very much!