Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Show review: Shonen Knife at the Empty Bottle, 11/12

By Gene Wagendorf III

Yamano sings "Rock N Roll High School"
30th anniversary tour. The words bring images of bloated, wrinkled musicians and hired-guns wistfully stomping through cookie-cutter set lists and audiences split between those blinded by the thrill of their favorite hit and those left coldly disappointed by an impotent showing. Enter Shonen Knife and throw out everything I just said.

The pop-punk trio from Osaka, Japan opened their set Saturday with "Konnichiwa," from 1998's Happy Hour, immediately turning The Bottle into a grimy, sweaty basement party. Blunt drumming tussled with Ritsuko Taneda's rippling bass lines, instantly rubberizing knees and necks. The bassist jammed in sync with founding singer/guitarist Naoko Yamano, going for what looked like a kind of ZZ Top-meets-Devo thing. Serrated distortion shimmered through the bop of "Rock Society," the first of several songs played that justify the plethora of Ramones-comparisons associated with Shonen Knife. Built for fist-pumping, the tune is of the positive and playful punk that tends to be forgotten when talking about "real music." Yes, it can be difficult to take a band who earnestly plays songs like "I am a Cat" seriously, but any listener with their nose so upturned that they can't enjoy simple things like great melodies, stupid, giddy lyrics and a great beat is a fool who I didn't need to run into at the show anyway. The aforementioned kitty-themed song was sung by drummer Emi Morimoto, whose pixie voice pleasantly swayed over polished guitar flourishes.

Shonen Knife rips through "Twist Barbie"
"Capybara," named after a large South American rodent, was probably the night's most refreshing number, a buoyant ska romp that begged to be danced to and, tragically, was the end of animal-themed music. 1986's "Devil House" followed, a twinkling homage to the '60s girl groups that Shonen Knife is clearly influenced by. Yamano's voice seems to have only gotten better with age. Her performance was more elastic and endearing than on the now 25 year old song. The musical winks to past groups continued with "Redd Kross," a tribute to the California rock band of the same name. The main set closed with grinding metal jam that started off Motorhead and ended in a twisting, jerky Sabbath-esque crunch, causing the crowd to throw up the most sincere devil horns I've seen at a show in a long time. The entire night played out like a history lesson, except, you know, it was undeniably fun. Shonen Knife used this big 30th anniversary tour to play some classics and a few deep cuts, to show their range and most of all, get the crowd bopping.

For their encore the trio tossed out any need to play "guess the influence," returning to perform the bulk of their new record, Osaka Ramones, which, you guessed it, is a Ramones cover album. The crowd ate it up, melting into one of the friendliest pits I've ever seen (Riot Festers, this is how it's done). Having never seen the Ramones, getting the opportunity to slam to "Beat on the Brat" and "The KKK Took My Baby Away" was a treat, and I couldn't have been more pleased with the show's conclusion. That said, it did point out to me just how lazy the excessive comparisons are. Yeah, Shonen Knife learned a lot from Joey and the boys, but their sound is a mesh of that a whole lot more. They certainly do those pop-punk songs with a kind of ditzy perfection, but if that's all I had heard on Saturday I would've felt a little cheated. Instead I was left debating a trip to Indianapolis to see the band again in two nights. That is how I'll describe Shonen Knife from now on, not as "chick Ramones from Osaka," but as "a group so good I almost went to fucking Indianapolis."


Check out more show reviews:
Mister Heavenly at Subterranean
Supreme Cuts, Memoryhouse, Balam Acab at the Empty Bottle
tUnE-yArDs at Lincoln Hall
Wooden Shjips at the Empty Bottle
Electric 6 at Double Door

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