Le Poisson Rouge, New York City • June 22, 2015
Let’s face it. To be a fan of Shonen Knife, one must have an innate desire to embrace the blend of edgy rock riffs with the kitschiest part of Japanese culture. The mental and social preparation for the Shonen Knife experience for me was as ritualistic as a Japanese tea ceremony. I ate an early dinner of sushi washed down with cups of sake and finished off with a couple of strawberry Pocky twigs and a Mochi ball for dessert, all while watching Speed Racer clips on YouTube. Yes, it’s overboard kitschy indeed, but this is what a good Shonen Knife show demands.
And what better way to honor the long-standing female pop-punk trio of the Yamano sisters (Naoko on guitar and Atsuko on bass) and drummer, Emi Morimoto? Shonen Knife’s music is a Pop Rocks candy of colorful lyrics filled with images of Jap-anime battles and fun foods like sushi, green tea, and bananas with a fizzy mouthful of hard guitar distortions and pulsing rhythms.
For this event, Shonen Knife was winding down the U.S. leg of their world tour, opening for CJ Ramone at Le Poisson Rouge in NYC’s West Village. The SK-CJ pairing was genius. Several Shonen Knife songs showcase the Ramones influence on songs like “Riding on a Rocket” (from the album Let’s Knife) and the 2011 EP, Osaka Ramones – Tribute to The Ramones.
Le Poisson Rouge, with its walls as red as Christian Grey’s playroom, was a poorly lit small venue that oftentimes washed a red hue over both band and audience. Equally poor over-reverbed and over-bassed sound mixing drowned out most of the vocals. But, as mentioned earlier, it’s the overall show that makes the Shonen Knife experience. From the first introductory song, aptly called “Konnichiwa,” to the closing song of “Buttercup (I’m a Super Girl),” the ladies were one non-stop run of entertainment.
Visually, the Osaka-based trio took to the stage with a matching dress of Mondrian-like bright patterns in 60’s retro-fashion. In songs like “Bad Luck Song” and “Cobra vs. Mongoose,” Naoko and Atsuko strut their stage maneuvers a-la Detroit Rock City, pointing to the crowds, making hand-horn gestures, hair whipping, and circling arm-windmills with their guitar strums. Emi was full of flair and energetic bursts behind the drum set on “Explosion!” and, she clearly shined on songs like “Green Tea” when she sang while pounding the shit of those toms.
We’re not sure when Shonen Knife will reunite in the U.S. Naoko and Emi returned to Japan while Atsuko went home to California. But, that doesn’t mean that one can’t still enjoy the Shonen Knife experience. Check out their discography, make it a night of campy abandon with food and music like I did before this live show, and “Let’s Knife!”