November 8th, 2011
Shonen Knife the band I had come to see at the Tractor Tavern in Ballard on this Tuesday night are a three piece all girl punk pop band from Osaka, Japan who are celebrating their 30th anniversary on this tour (they have been heavily influenced by punk rock bands like the Ramones – one of the worlds first punk rock bands, formed in New York City in 1974). The only original member is Naoko Yamano (lead vocals/guitar 1981 – present), other current band members are Ritsuko Taneda (bass/backing vocals 2006 – present) and new drummer Emi Morimoto (2010 – present), another original member Atsuko Yamano (Sister) left the band in 2006 to get married and move to Los Angeles sometimes rejoins the band on stage especially if in LA (not on this night, but she was there selling the merchandise so got to meet her then).
Shonen Knife first got thrown into the western spotlight in the late 1980’s and received major exposure in 1991/2 when Kurt Cobain who was a big fan got them to support Nirvana’s Nevermind tour in the UK. I have seen them play before in Australia on their 2009 “Super Group” world tour (the band members then were Naoko, Ristuko and former drummer Etsuko Nakanishi who was with them from 2005-2010), my friends and I had a lot of fun that night and we all agreed that the girls in the band were just so little, cute and fun, it was hard not to get into their catchy music.
Their passion, happiness and musical ability is number one and who can resist their hard rocking style? After that 2009 show I got to meet them, they were really nice and autographed a tour poster for me and also drew bonus little japanese style cartoons of kittens and bunnies on there! They really do have to be one of the most adorable bands in the world (so different from the metal/rock/grunge appearance of the bands I normally see)!
I arrived fairly early for this 2011 show and ended up seeing Shonen Knife practicing through the locked front doors window, and when they finally opened the doors I was the first one in. After two local support acts (Watch It Sparkle and Grave Babies) the girls entered the stage wearing retro 1960’s inspired outfits to great applause from a packed house and after a brief intro they burst into Konichiwa. This show was going to be a lot of fun!
The first half of the show they played all original songs and the band often interacted with the crowd, Naoko introduced a song (Capybara) and said “It is about a cute animal”, then a couple of songs later “Um this song is also about a cute animal. We like cute animals!” (I am a Cat sung by Emi the drummer). So funny. They smile and laugh their way throughout the set and talked about appearing on local TV (click here to see the clip) and enjoying Seattle coffee and of all things Red Mill hamburgers (which are really good)! You can not help but smile too. A girl in the crowd told me she started to cry while watching them play – tears of joy apparently!
Other popular songs during the set included Twist Barbie (with the synchronised rocking guitar playing), Perfect Freedom (here is the Japanese version for comparison), Supergroup and for me the first ever Shonen Knife song I heard years ago was the incredibly catchy Banana Chips which I am glad to say they played to everyones delight! I actually had this in my head for about two days leading up to the concert and I still do!
For their encore the girls appeared on stage after a quick change into jeans, t-shirts and leather jackets for a Ramones tribute that was awesome! They played a rapid fire set including Blitzkrieg Pop, Sheena is a Punk Rocker (sung by Ritsuko) and Beat on the Brat. The crowd went wild singing along to every word (me too)! Shonen Knife have just released a tribute album of Ramones music titled “Osaka Ramones” so the tie in was perfect and a lot of fun.
After the show the girls did a meet and greet for fans which was really cool. They signed my copy of Osaka Ramones (including cute cartoon characters again) and I had a quick chat with them about tonight’s show and the one in Australia in 2009.
They were a lot of fun and posed for some photos with me and by themselves which was great (even Gumby made an appearance!). A girl asked me to take a picture of them with her and a friend, but the camera was on video mode, so I said “everyone say Konichiwa” which they all did amongst much giggling, a very funny moment! I noticed the next day on Emi’s blog that she said the following about the Seattle gig: “After the show we did funny faces photo shooting party at the green room ! I could’nt stop laughing!!”, this made me laugh too!
Here is a nice timeline/discography video of Shonen Knife.
Japanese bands are always quirky, energetic and fun, but non compare to the infectious happiness of Shonen Knife! Thanks for a great night! The other Japanese bands I have seen are:
The 22.214.171.124’s who play surf music, rockabilly, garage rock – probably the most famous Japanese act they appeared in the movie Kill Bill. In a hilarious moment during their 2004 concert in Melbourne, Australia, I think it was one of the girl’s husband came out with a miniature electric guitar, played it furiously then at the end said in English “I like motorbike” and promptly left the stage! Brilliant!
Electric Eel Shock play heavy metal/hard rock – in 2008 in Melbourne they put on a very lively performance indeed, especially the lead singer with his crazy afro! Even the bikers in the crowd there to see Nashville Pussy liked them!
King Brothers play alternative rock and are famous for destructive live shows – apparently they have been banned in a number of Japanese venues! The night I saw them back in Melbourne in 2005 the lead singer was playing guitar in the crowd and singing whilst the microphone was in his mouth! They were so good the headlining act The Mint Chicks from New Zealand were blown away and got really angry when the crowd didn’t get into them, so much so that their lead singer spat on the crowd! A wild night!
Finally Dakota Star a pop rock act – they were supporting the Veruca Salt reunion tour in Melbourne in 2005. The lead singer Chiaki was a great singer and really nice, she posed for photos with us – she was so tiny!
As the local music media personality in Australia, Ian “Molly” Meldrum used to say “Do yourself a favour” and go see a Japanese band. They rock!