Kurt Cobain was one of a number of famous fans of Japanese pop-punk band Shonen Knife, stating that seeing them live he “was transformed into a hysterical nine-year-old girl at a Beatles concert." As if it isn’t impressive enough that they could make Cobain happy, their wonderful live album ‘Live in Osaka’, and our general fan boy level of meant that expectations were higher than Cobain was when he first saw them (sorry).
Entering to one of the songs from their latest, ‘Pop Tune’, wearing matching clothes, Shonen Knife stood on stage holding towels above their heads emblazoned with “Shone Knife”, like the world’s least threatening football fans. They opened with the first song on ‘Live in Osaka’, ‘Konnichiwa’, just one aspect of the very carefully planned and rehearsed nature of their live shows, which also include choreographed dance movements and synchronised head-banging. This also extended to them stopping at certain points to tell a story about how a song came to be written (‘Do You Happen to Know’) or to introduce each member of the band, who in turn politely explained how much they enjoyed rocking out in the UK. They then proceeded to do just that, and indeed the whole show was a mad blend of grin inducing rehearsed touches and wild unplanned guitar shredding and devil-horn throwing.
This stop-and-start, planned-and-chaotic format threw up some interesting anomalies. For example, whenever they were between songs the room was almost completely silent. Partly perhaps this was because the audience was so agape at how energetic and skilled the band were, but partly it was polite expectation that Naoko or one of the other band members was about to say something important in slightly broken English. This led to some slightly awkward silences but it was certainly a fairly unique experience. It was also undoubtedly out of respect and not boredom; everyone in the front half of the room was either head-banging along or smiling copiously. As the set progressed the band started going straight into songs without waiting for applause, leading to an extended thrash sequence which included ‘Economic Crisis’ and (Osaka) Ramones song ‘Psychotherapy’.
After leaving the stage the band returned to ask if anyone had any requests, and when no-one provided any good suggestions, and they were too polite to reject anything out of hand, they eventually played the shortest song they could think of under the pretext that they had eaten sushi that night, ‘Sushi Bar’, as it was already post-curfew. Consummate business women, they then manned the merch stall to encourage sales, and sure enough there was a long queue of people waiting to buy things and have them signed after such a fantastic evening (your intrepid reviewer included).
Ultimately, without using superlatives, Shonen Knife should be set up for life as ambassadors for live music. It was a travesty that The Fleece was only three quarters full, as everyone should really see this band, they are so infectiously enthusiastic and brilliant fun to watch. Expectations were more than met; if you can, check this band before they return to Japan, it may be a long wait before they return.
Words by Steven Garrard