GIGS GALORE

Shonen Knife
The Roxy
May 19, 1994

They were cute! They were funny! They were endearing! They rocked! They were Naoko Yamano, Michie Nakatani and Atsuko Yamano--Shonen Knife--in Phoenix for the very first time, all the way from Osaka, Japan.

Before we continue, this is what you need to know about the Knife: Twelve years ago, the three ladies decided office work was no fun and rock n' roll was. They borrowed musical fistfuls from the Ramones, the Buzzcocks, the Ronettes and mixed in a kind of Godzilla-cum-Astro Boy aesthetic, copped the name of a popular Japanese pocketknife and re-emerged into pop culture as the mighty and righteous Shonen Knife.

The band released a few independent things in its native land, but with 92's major-label debut Let's Knife, the rest of the world--some of it, anyway--began to take notice. Kurt Cobain asked them to open for his band last year, folks like Sonic Youth and Redd Kross sing Knife's praises, and 93 also saw the release of Every Band Has a Shonen Knife Who Loves Them, a tribute album offering 30 different groups covering 30 different Knife songs.

If it all sounds a bit goofy, it is. But that doesn't mean it's a joke; the trio's show here was sheer pleasure. Like a really fine stick of bubblegum, the Knife was simple, ear-chewing satisfaction, from the first song to the last.

And speaking of first songs, the opener was the hooky "Flying Jelly Attack," which proves--as do all their tunes--that you don't need a command of the English language to write great lyrics. To wit: "I'm gonna eat jelly jelly jelly jelly jelly jelly jelly jelly beans/You're gonna eat jelly jelly jelly"; well, you get the idea. "Louie Louie" has nothing on this.

Just watchin' em was fun, too. Naoko in her glittering, silver-and-gold Seventies swinger top, knocking out the power chords on a red Flying V guitar (with leopard-skin strap, natch) that nearly dwarfed her. Bass player Michie sang strong, sweet and accented with a constant smile that ranged from coy to orgasmic, and when the two engaged in a perfect pas de deux of heavy-metal head-hammering, it was a sight to behold.

Michie's announcement after the third song that "I know important, famous basketball tournament tonight, but thank you so much for coming" brought out the best from the substantial crowd, which needed very little coaxing. And then into "Twist Barbie," another steaming slice of pure pop on the attributes of the plastic American icon from a Japanese point of view. "Blue eyes, blond hair/Tight body, long legs/She's very smart, she can dance well. . . . I wanna be Twist Barbie."

You haven't really heard the Motown classic "Heatwave" until you've heard it done phonetically by a Japanese girl behind a drum kit, and I'm not being sarcastic. The tune was heartbreakingly pure and awkward, Atsuko's voice framed by spot-on background harmonies from the two other ladies of the Knife.

But it wasn't all snappy, stay-pressed pop; toward the end of the show, the band did a couple L7-ish numbers that sounded darn close to Sabbath's "Iron Man." You know the way Beavis and Butt-head look when they're rocking out? That's what practically everybody in the place was doing.

Shonen Knife could do no wrong, and after an encore that included Atsuko, appropriately, doing Ringo's trademark "Boys," the trio politely bowed and scampered off. And they left more than one Anglo heart a-thumpin'; one kid at the front of the stage lunged for Naoko's set list and clutched it to his heart, eyes heavenward. It was, of course, in Japanese.--Peter Gilstrap

Elvis Costello and the Attractions
Mesa Amphitheatre
May 17, 1994

Back in the days when Elvis Costello still had a day job, you could find him puttering around computers. So it should come as no surprise that more than a few computer literates were among the 3,000 who flocked to see their spectacled hero at Mesa Amphitheatre. One fan was keeping score with Costello's set list from the previous night's San Diego show, which another Elvis fanatic had posted on a Prodigy bulletin board. Throughout the entire show, you could see him furiously checking off each song as it went hammering by.

When the final results were tallied, Costello's aim appeared to be true to that list, except somewhere along the way we lost "(The Angels Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes" but gained "All the Rage," "My Science Fiction Twin" and "Peace, Love and Understanding" in the bargain.

To say this show was eagerly anticipated among diehard Costello fans would be a gross understatement. His latest album, Brutal Youth, finally reunited him with the Attractions for the first time in seven years--seven years Elvis has spent mostly playing with studio musicians trying to sound like the Attractions.

The average listener might think of the trio merely as Elvis' back-up band, but together with Costello, they forged an alliance as unique and powerful as that of the early Who. Take this classic lineup out of the mix--as Elvis did for the last three albums, save for drummer Pete Thomas--and it's like watching those Andy Griffith shows without Don Knotts.

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