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Shinobi Ninja At Gramercy Theatre, Saturday. October 20th, 2016, Reviewed

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The first thing I saw at the Shinobi Ninja gig last night was Dave Aaron outside the Gramercy, greeting friends and fans, and as always on the top of his toes, jumping, hugging, smiling, sharing his time, while most rock performers of his caliber would be locked backstage, snorting coke and trying to get their mind straight. Dave loves an audience and so does Shinobi and I love them for it.  I interviewed Shinobi Ninja for the first time six months after they formed, and I’ve remained about as big a fan as I can be ever since. Live, they are untouchable and at Gramercy Theatre, they were untouched.

However, that’s not to say this was the Shinobi gig of your dreams, for one thing, a brief 45 minute romp that felt like a minute and a half was not enough, and for another, it was not a big gig for them: essentially, it was what the band does. Baby Girl MCing (I asked Aaron about the setlist a coupla days ago, he told me Baby Girl was still working on it), Dave sharing the spotlight, though with a guitar (he took a pretty neat solo) more often than I’ve seen him play it before, the twins, Maniak Mike on guitar and drummer Terminator Dave (who once wrote a piece for us) on drums, Alien Lex -no longer Jonny On The Rocks replacement, on bass: Helen Bach claims Lex has piercing eyes! And DJ Axis Powers on the turntables. Between them, they bring a professionalism and a power that defies you to remain calm.

The set was classic stuff, Dave owned “Stop”, Baby Girl destroyed “Bang Bang”, the band reached as far back as “Rock Hood” all the way forward to the waiting to be released “Monday”. “Monday” is a song about being depressed but how depressed can be it when it wallops and wallops you? Everything here wallops you into shape, the Terminator (aka Kid Shreddi) is all riffing chord progressions, he eschews subtlety for power, Terminator Dave should be in a hardcore band on the side, he drives the band anywhere he goes. And Baby Girl offers up one “punk rock” song after another -when she announces a slow one it would be any other band’s fast one. In the center of the stage, she shakes her braids along with the boys, and when she dances she really moves: she can dance, she can rap, she can sing, and over the years her confidence has become overwhelming. Aaron is a natural born rock star, and Baby Girl can keep up with him. “I’m gonna hold my tongue till after the gig”, she warns someone, with the amount of pure ferocity the woman has at her fingerprints, I’m happy I’m not whoever earned her ire.

If everything I say is true, then why are they not huge? For one thing, they had a manager that didn’t know how to manage. You can’t overstate the importance of a great manager and I can’t tell you how many bands the lack of one has harmed. I just read Peter Ames Carlin’s Springsteen bio, and he makes the importance crystal clear. Shinobi Ninja now do everything themselves, they can set up a 100 date tour with a snap of their fingers, but they can’t follow through on their publishing gains. Next, they have a sound that is difficult to get on record, it isn’t the average verse chorus verse with a catchy melody, the band is all about team dynamics, so how do you get that down? They need a Chris Spedding or Guy Stevens, they need an expert analog producer to center their response, their pure attack, on tape. All of their albums are good, without being as good as they should be. Finally, they haven’t had another lucky break and they need one very very much. Nothing beats good luck, nothing comes close. I was explaining to a friend of mine why she hadn’t married yet, but she just couldn’t grasp the simplicity of the reply: she was unlucky. That’s the reason why Shinobi Ninja are opening at Gramercy and not headlining at T5.

The result is a song like “$50,000”, about what you would buy if you won $50K in the lottery. If that’s your daydream, right? But Baby Girl makes it sound like a million dollars, “All good in the hood with my fifty thousand” she and Aaron sing on the chorus as the band takes an awesome riff as far as it will possibly go. She ends the night by asking us to shout “Showtime” three times, before the band attacks and dissolves into the night. That’s Shinobi Ninja in 2016, a disciplined shot of adrenaline that turns on like a faucet and leaves you sweating and screaming. I knew what to expect and I was still blown away on this, just another night for one of the greatest live bands I have ever ever seen.

Grade: A

 

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