Shonen Knife, American Werewolf Academy, Wussy - The Cargo, London
Celebrating its sixth year, record label Damnably has pulled out all the stops in bringing together some good ol’ classic Americana and Japanese pop punk. It’s a mix that on the outset may not seem to make much sense but between the three bands tonight there’s a common fundamental to be shared in the pursuit of preserving the kind of sounds that don’t ordinarily make big waves in the charts today.
Wussy seems like the kind of band that may have made bigger waves had it been part of the alternative rock scene during the eighties to mid-nineties. An enticing cocktail of jangle-pop and post-punk attitudes sees them reminiscent of artists like R.E.M. and Sonic Youth; some eerily similar chord patterns indebted toward the latter, while lyrically there’s a melancholic beauty befitting of the former. This is real home-grown stuff; intimate and sensitive vocals, offset by a distinct raw clashing of guitars.
And if it didn’t sound quite so polished then part of that was simply down to the band being, well, half a band. The fivesome had been stripped down to two, as lead singers/songwriters Chuck Cleaver and Lisa Walker were the only ones to make the trip from Ohio, requiring American Werewolf Academy’s Tony Harper to fill in on drums. And it worked true enough. Promoting the European release of their 17-track compilation CD Buckeye, Wussy charged through a string of dreamy tunes collected from their five studio albums, which date back as far as 2005.
The chemistry between Chuck and Lisa is joyous, the pair obviously know each others’ ticks as they bounce off one another effortlessly. Chuck appears to be a giant on stage; taking on some of the meatier guitar duties he’s also gentle on the vocals, delivering a sweet harmony alongside Lisa, who often exchanges soulful glances as she pours her heart into each meticulous line. They also proves to be a lot of fun as they interspersed their songs with anecdotes. Even if the entire crowd wasn’t entirely appreciative of the occasional bouts of talking, it was a nice gesture regardless to see the band open up and extend themselves even further beyond the music.
Formed in 2004 American Werewolf Academy have also proven to be seasoned on the tour circuit but have only recently put out their debut album Everything Is Alright So Far. Wearing their power-pop, bubblegum and post-punk rock influences proudly on their sleeves, the trio of Aaron Thedford, Tony Harper and Jake Barnhart fuse their short and catchy numbers with plenty of energetic stage antics: Aaron kicks all over the place, Jake jumps a lot and Tony looks remarkably laid back for all the work he’s putting in. Let it not be said that these guys aren’t fun to watch as they go through much of their album, trying their damn hardest to get the crowd a little more involved.
Like Wussy, they stopped between songs to tell amusing stories but again there seemed to have been a small amount of disinterest, with the occasional shout from across the room for them to just get on with it - no fault on their part, this just seemed to be a running thing which even continued after Shonen Knife had taken to the stage. They also did a spot of borrowing of their own as Lisa came on stage to perform a little number which turned out to be quite a highlight. In all, a perfectly nice introduction to a very much deserving band, who just happen to be thoroughly nice chaps to boot.
It’s hard to believe that this October had come around so fast. I had seen Shonen Knife performing at the Scala last year, where they played just a few Ramones tracks under the guise of The Osaka Ramones. During their 2011 UK visit they did perform one date as their alter-egos, and this year they’d do the same in kicking off their 15 date UK tour.
To be honest, there’s little more to say about a band that’s just about had everything said about them. Shonen Knife, through all their line-up changes, have never strayed from the simple formula that has allowed them to continue being so successful. You know exactly what you’re gonna get.
Tonight’s Ramones tribute session consisted of twelve songs, most of which can be found on the CD release from last year, with few such as ‘Blitzkrieg Pop’ making its way in. Tracks like ‘KKK Took my Baby Away’ and ‘Sheena is a Punk Rocker’ were more evenly spread across the group, who by this time were enjoying a full room of moshing, opening themselves up to what I can only assume was inebriated criticism whenever they paused to perfect their tuning. But it really isn’t worth moaning about the little things as these gals prove time and again that they know how to deliver tight, punchy tracks, all the while lovingly respecting a band that has meant so much to the development of their career. And don’t worry if you did miss out this time, as they’ll be back at the same venue on Oct 16th by special demand.
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