The Japanese pop-punk pioneers Shonen Knife stormed through NYC’s Brooklyn Bowl in support of their new live album ALIVE! In Osaka and gave some of their diehard fans a welcome injection of hardcore optimism and cheer. This band was a power trio that turned the international music scene on its head in the early 80’s with a surprising combination of pop catchiness, DIY garage rock rawness, punk brashness, and a touch of metal grind, all with an unexpectedly joyful and uplifting twist of often outrageously silly lyrics sang in both Japanese and English side by side. From the outset, they were influenced by the juxtaposing inspirations of harmonizing 60’s girl groups like The Ronettes and snarling punk groups like the Ramones. They also found much of their exposure here in the states through being championed by many of the coolest bands around, with the likes of Sonic Youth and Redd Kross in the 80’s and bands like Nirvana and Mudhoney in the 90’s touting their brilliance. Their album’s mega-successes also didn’t hurt from being released through mega-hip labels like K Records and Sub Pop as well as being featured on numerous cool TV and movie soundtracks. The band has certainly gone through their share of personnel changes over the years, but today again centers on the sisterly love between guitarist Naoko Yamano and bassist Atsuko Yamano who often switch up lead vocal duties, as well the newer addition of a drummer named Risa from the band BRINKY. All three translate perfectly to a hell of a fun time that leaves all negativity and discord at the door.
Opening the show were Queens natives The U.S. Americans who take a very zany approach to prog-punk that makes you think hard just before melting your brain. They take you on a ride that feels equal part rollercoaster, mad teacups, freak show, and tunnel of love. Whatever ring of circus amusement you gravitate towards seems to be perfectly executed, and they prove to be a great crowd energy charger. One minute you’ll be drawn into an epic Queen operetta like the track “Fade Out,” and the next you’ll be knocked down by the raw 80’s skater punk bang of “FCK The KGB.” They played songs from their hilariously titled debut album Greatest Hits alongside surprisingly straight forward covers of everything from Radiohead’s “The Bends” to the Ramones “Rockaway Beach. They are truly, truly outrageous, but honestly, I think they are secretly dating The Misfits.
Sure, Shonen Knife’s songs are often about rather silly and child-like in subject matter, and more often than not obsessed with a passionate fascination with food, but their music drive always kicks serious ass. Naoko eternally shreds ridiculous amounts of serious axe power that would make any of the mightiest of guitar rock gods blush, Atsuko’s dexterous bass thump can always whip the crowd up into a tizzy, and Risa’s big smile and genuine warm glow belay some of the volcanic drumming I’ve heard in quite some time. Their stuffed set scowered through their 20-album catalogue and had many of their classics like “Twist Barbie,” “Flying Jelly Attack,” and “I Am a Cat,” as well as a number of covers like The Carpenter’s “Top of the World” and Nick Lowe’s “Cruel to Be Kind.” I have seen this band before with just Naoko as the sole member, and I did appreciate their more metal leanings then, but it was a genuine pleasure to see the sisters back together and rocking it out like a couple of joyous kids again.
Article: Dean Keim