Shonen Knife - Brudenell Social Club Leeds, UK

by Andy Brown Rating:10 Release Date:2013-04-08

“When I finally got to see them live, I was transformed into a hysterical nine-year-old girl at a Beatles concert.” - Kurt Cobain

The above quote goes someway to describing the sheer giddy exhilaration of a Shonen Knife gig. Sisters Naoko Yamano and Atsuko Yamano formed the band in Osaka, Japan back in 1981 with a shared love of punk, 70s rock and 60s pop. A re-release of their debut album, Burning Farm, on the iconic K Records made the likes of Fugazi, Nirvana, Sonic Youth, and The BMX Bandits fans, while the subsequent tours would continue to spread the good vibes. Years later and the band are still going, releasing Adventure, their 20th studio album, this April.

Before Shonen Knife we’re taken on a mini-world tour with tonight’s two support acts. First up, there’s punk-pop trio Leggy from Cincinnati, Ohio. Guitarist Véronique Allaer and bassist Kerstin Bladh lead the charge from the front while drummer Christopher Campbell provides the bands primal heartbeat. A mixture of bubblegum bounce and riot grrl roar, the trio ooze pure, unadulterated rock ‘n’ roll from every pore. The brief and brutal jackhammer of ‘Bruises’ hits hard while ‘Grrrls Like Us’ provides the rather fitting rhyming couplet , “there are plenty of fish in the sea/ but girls like us don’t grow on trees”. I couldn’t have said it better.

The tour gets a little closer to home with tonight’s second support act, Barnsley’s Bruja. Fronted by bassist and lead vocalist Delyth Wadsworth, the band trade in a style of energetic, sludge punk that makes the South Yorkshire trio feel like some great lost 90s Sub Pop band. Wadsworth’s vocals are the cool calm underneath the wall of feedback and Bleach-like riffs provided by guitarist Giannis Kipreos. There’s a real appreciation for melodic, fuzzy grunge-pop here, handed out in addictive three minute packages. Bruja are the band you wish you were in.

Dressed in homemade shiny silver outfits Shonen Knife take to the stage smiling and holding what appear to be small banners emblazoned with the band’s name. The two sisters don’t look any older than their press shots from the 1990’s while drummer Risa is the latest addition to the family Knife having joined in 2015. Early into the show Naoko addresses the crowd as “Leeds- rock city!” with such genuine love and enthusiasm (yes, I know they probably say it in every city) that the whole room is immediately in the palm of their collective hands.

Shonen Knife aren’t the kind of band to stand around staring at their shoes with Naoko and Atsuko excitedly jumping on the spot and occasionally meeting in the middle of the stage for a back-to-back Status Quo moment. It’s so unselfconsciously fun that you find yourself grinning from ear to ear, taking photos in the vain hope that you’ll somehow be able to explain it all to those friends that have unwisely stayed at home. And yes, that Kurt Cobain quote makes a lot of sense when you’re watching the band in full flow.

The songs are simple, addictive odes to BBQs, cats and rollercoasters; with each glorious punk-pop blast lasting 2 minutes before moving on. They’re the Japanese, all-girl Ramones tribute act playing The Beatles back-catalogue at double the speed. They’re so much more exciting than any band in their 35th year has any right to be. Their latest single, ‘Jump into the new World’, sounds unbelievably fresh, bursting with enthusiasm and wide-eyed positivity. Psych-pop gem ‘Green Tangerine’ reveals some great pop songwriting while the likes of ‘Burger & Chips’ reminds us that punk doesn’t always have to be serious or angry to be good. For this and many other reasons you really have to hand it to Shonen Knife- a very special band.

It’s some of the most genuinely positive music I’ve heard in ages and ultimately that’s what Shonen Knife is about. It’s been an undeniably special evening and as I flock with the crowd to the merch table I see that the banners they held up are in fact small, Shonen Knife towels. The band really does think of everything. Here’s hoping they come back to Leeds rock city soon. 

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