Shonen Knife - Academy, Birmingham
Birmingham’s Academy has a thirsty weekend feel. After Cincinnati's relentless, almost literally breathless, Leggy’s sparkling-punk songs charm the "best Birmingham we've ever played", excitement builds for the main event: Osaka’s pop-punk favourites Shonen Knife. Lights dim before the audience erupts to the Japanese three-piece walking out with football scarves above their heads performing the gleeful introductory “Konnichiwa!”, featuring tonight’s most rhetorical line “Are you ready to rock!”
The Ramones are a 1970s influence but Shonen Knife’s tour outfits are 1970s disco ball not black leather: sleeveless silver trouser suits glimmer so bright to reflect the audience’s smiles. On vocals and guitar, Naoko Yamano leads the night’s tight interaction with similar delivery to Super Furry Animals’ Gruff Rhys: anticipation is everything and each – sometimes comically timed – word is treasured (“Our new album ‘Adventure’ and our [previous] album ‘Overdrive’ both have the concept of rock music... BRITISH rock music!”) The audience is vocal and mobile, bouncing middle-aged men rub their hands in glee as they defy their years, and gravity’s related expectations, for one night.
Ever present Naoko discusses the difficulty retaining other band members with TMF but finds a remarkable drummer in 20-year old Risa Kawano, and re-finds younger sister Atsuko Yamanoon moving from drums to bass from the original line-up. The BBC observed this line-up never sounding better in a recent session, and never sounding better tonight is ‘Jump into the New World’ describing Risa’s butterflies after leaving her home town; its backing vocal harmonies leaving not a “oh la la la” out of place, referencing Naoko’s favourites The Beatles and sweetening her precise guitar. Atsuko and Risa perform lead vocals on ‘Wasabi’ and ‘Green Tangerine’ respectively, but Atsuko’s not satisfied with drums, bass, and vocals, reminding people “We love you, have a good time! I made this costume, I hope you like it!” Not only food, Shonen Knife love animals, both the “smelly” ‘Bear Up Bison’ and “For our next song, a cute animal ‘Capybara’” responded to with an “Oh yes!” Punch the air, it’s a capybara!
It’s easier to imagine children singing later songs like ‘Capybara’ than earlier edgy garage-sounding fast and furious ‘Riding on the Rocket’ (Naoko introducing as: “Riding on the Rockeeettt!!!”) and ‘Twist Barbie’, a subtle difference in style and tone heard when compressing 35 years into an hour live show. New songs have rock influences like Kiss, known for their showmanship: ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll T-shirt’ features synchronised head banging and vocal – but no guitar – duels, perhaps one day if Shonen Knife are allowed to have even more fun.
Enjoyment derived from Shonen Knife live is the simple joy of seeing a band, really, enjoy playing. Unlike music writers, the band don't need obfuscating metaphors, a skill that can’t be regarded as simple or trivial: neither term applies to music successfully designed to instantly make a deep emotional connection. All art is manipulation and no band has a more efficient and endearing method of achieving this by, in their words, "weaving a happy song in your heart.” Life is hard and manipulating an audience into joy for an hour is hard work meaning ‘Banana Chips’ is the encore’s only song despite one loud voice pleading “Oh, two songs, please two more.” But everyone will have to do with humming the final song’s catchy refrain on the way home, weaving a happy song in their hearts.
Bear Up Bison
Jump into the New World
Rock ‘n’ Roll T-shirt
Bad Luck Song
Riding on the Rocket