- by Andy Brown Rating: Release Date: Label:
Near the end of the night singer and guitarist Naoko Yamano says she hopes Spring will arrive in the UK soon. The weather, rather predictably, hasn’t been great. Certainly not the kind of weather needed for a ‘BBQ Party’. Just over a week later and the sun is shining and sausages are sizzling. Proof, if any was needed, that Japan’s Shonen Knife really do make dreams come true.
Rewind to the start and it’s time for tonight’s first support act, Sheffield’s Oh Papa. The band play country-tinged indie with a nod to the likes of Silver Jews in Jack Davies’ laid-back delivery. Slide-guitar and slow, lazy grooves meld perfectly with Davies’ lyrics as he sings, “I think you’re an ocean ‘cos you play it so cool/ and I think you’re so honest ‘cos you call me and honest fool”.
‘Closeness’ is accurately described as a song you could “potentially boogie to” while the gorgeous ‘Pluto’s Curse’ manages to recall a particularly hazy take on The Beatles ‘Don’t Let me Down’. It’s Oh Papa’s first time in Leeds; hopefully it won’t be their last. Definitely a band and songwriter to keep an eye on.
Next up it’s time for the garage-rock glamour of Leeds locals Bad Bug. The band haven’t been around all that long but have plenty of ambition. Not of the X-Factor, I’ll-do-anything-to-get-on-TV kind. This is a group of people who genuinely belong on stage.
They look like a real gang and I can almost imagine them all living under the same roof, a distinctly rock ‘n’ roll cross between Slade and The Walton’s. Dressed in glitzy, glam-rock chic while their singer does his best to channel the likes of Jarvis Cocker.
The lyrics take in everything from outer space to big bottoms and Brudenell Road. And, did he just tell us to go and “sacrifice” our pets?! It’s early days but tonight’s performance is exciting, gloriously messy and full of the bands anthemic, fun and pleasingly weird take on classic rock.
It’s a simple enough formula; energetic punk pop meets wide-eyed 60’s euphoria and garage band cool. It’s The Ramones but with the New York snarl replaced by gleeful enthusiasm and songs about food. Shonen Knife have taken these simple ingredients and turned them into something wonderful and genuinely life-affirming. Nowhere is this more apparent than at one of their gigs.
‘Pop Tune’ could almost be something of a mission statement, three impossibly happy minutes of bubblegum punk and positivity. And who else but Shonen Knife could write something as unapologetically fun as surf-punk tune ‘Banana Chips’? Two songs in and the band and audience are having an absolute blast.
Sisters Naoko and Atsuko Yamano have been doing this since 1981 and clearly still love every moment they spend on stage. ‘Twist Barbie’ brings some synchronised, chipmunk-like jumping from the sisters while drummer Risa Kawano (with the band since 2015) is quite possibly the happiest drummer I’ve ever seen. It looks like so much fun being in Shonen Knife, you can see how they’ve kept going for so many years.
The bands newer material sounds just as inspired with the Risa sung psych-pop of ‘Green Tangerine’ being a particularly lovely melodic highlight. Kawano tells us that she’s “very happy to come back to Leeds Rock City!” to cheers and whoops from the crowd. Half the battle with live performance is getting the audience on side, something Shonen Knife manage with ease.
It obviously helps that the band has so many great songs while a cover of Nick Lowe’s 1979 hit ‘Cruel to Be Kind’ and a well-timed kazoo solo only add to the party vibes in the Brudenell. Naoko tells us about the pies she’s enjoyed at the venue (yes, you can even get pie at the Brudenell now) before the band launch into a set of food based tunes including the giddy, Kinks-esque ‘All You Can Eat’ and the too hot to handle rock ‘n’ roll of ‘Wasabi’.
‘Antonio Baka Guy’ sees the band play around with the tempo and a Sabbath worthy riff while an encore of ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll T-Shirt’ and ‘BBQ Party’ ensures no one goes home without a huge smile on their face. With their DIY outfits (Atsuko makes them) and unflinching commitment to rock ‘n’ roll, Shonen Knife remain one of the world’s most enduring and endearing bands. Go and see them perform and you’ll believe they can bring the sun out too.