Shonen Knife is a sort of anomaly in the pop music world, the all-female band from Osaka, Japan has a solid cult following in the US, and most of these people are now in their 50s, I can tell you it was absolutely the case on Wednesday night at the Bootleg theater in Los Angeles. And how many Japanese bands, which have been around for 35 years, can say the same thing? I don’t even know any other Japanese band as successful as Shonen Knife! The female trio, which has gained a worldwide following, is currently on tour to support a new album ‘Adventure’, with the eternally youthful band leader Naoko Yamano, her sister Atsuko, who is returning to the original lineup, and a new drummer, the very happy Risa Kjawano.
They looked very cute in their matching shiny silver outfits, they were all big smiles all the time, and their enthusiasm was contagious, although nobody around me needed to be convinced of the greatness of the Japanese trio. Kurt Cobain saw Shonen Knife play in LA in 1991 and he immediately became a fan – you probably saw the picture of Cobain wearing a Shonen Knife shirt, he was a real fanboy! You can really understand why while watching them play their Ramones-inspired song with childish voices and a tireless energy, the result is a pop delight, everything suddenly looks sugar-coated, and I wanted to join the many grown-up men around me who were jumping of joy like 5-year-old toddlers. May be that’s the thing about Shonen Knife, they bring back the kid in you, no matter what, and this is obviously a good thing. With these saccharine harmonies, it’s a series of bubble gum pop bursting into an even larger bubble of sweetness, and it’s as catchy as punk pop can be. There has always been a kid-like feeling in any Ramones song and the Shonen Knife girls have managed to capture this feeling for each of their poppy-punk numbers, from ‘Pop Tune’ to ‘Twist Barbie’, they flipped their silky long hair while reminding you why you liked pure and simple rock and roll in the first place.
They said several times they were very happy to be back in Los Angeles, although Atsuko lives there now, and Naoko was still acting like the frontgirl, speaking with her Japanese accent and presenting the new songs ‘Jump into the New World’, ‘Rock ‘n’ roll T-Shirt’, ‘Wasabi’ a song about a food item in Shonen Knife’s famous tradition, and surprisingly these new tunes rocked much harder and heavier than the old ones, as Naoko has admitted to have found new inspiration into the likes of Judas Priest or Black Sabbath. Don’t get me wrong, even the hard rock of ‘Rock ‘n’ roll T-Shirt’ was filed with poppy harmonies, and in any case, the very modest and polite trio would have never imposed more than 3 new songs to the audience. Thus, all the rest was a glimpse at their giant catalogue, with one hooky number after another, pleasing the crowd with this song about a cute animal (‘Capybara’), to another adorable animal song ‘Like A Cat’, and I thought I was frolicking in a Sanrio cartoon.
‘Muddy Bubbles Hell’ brought back a Metallica-sound with mean Sabbath-like bass lines, proving one more time that these girls know their rock ‘n’ roll, and can wander outside of their pop surf anthems, and the best proof may have been the furious mosh pit that started during their two last songs. I was actually amazed things had stayed more or less un-rowdy so far but ‘Riding on the Rocket’, with its simplistic Japanese Ramones-y lyrics, ‘Uka boo, uka boo, everybody uka boo/Iko, iko everybody let’s go’, definitively put bodies into a serious mashing mode, while the girls brought all their Powerpuff Girls power during the last song ‘Buttercup (I’m A Super Girl)’… but they came back for a short encore after a costume change, with a ‘Banana Chips’ dessert, before rising arms (something they did many times during the show), and waving their new Shonen Knife towels to us… at the end I wondered, what makes this buzzsaw pop punk cartoonish band, which often seems to go all autopilot on what could be kitschy nostalgia, what makes them sound so authentic? Probably this pure innocence that had seduced Cobain 25 years ago, and these smiles, which never fade away.
Bear Up Bison
Jump into the New World
Rock ‘n’ roll T-Shirt
Loop Di Loop
Like A Cat
Muddy Bubbles Hell
Riding on the Rocket
Buttercup (I’m A Super Girl)
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