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.

Though Elvis was the obvious focal point of the show, it was nearly impossible to keep one's eyes off of Steve Nieve, certainly the world's most aerobic keyboard player. During the first five numbers, he dropped to his knees often enough to make you think Shane Stant was hiding underneath his piano with a lead pipe. Drummer Thomas trilled like a brick of firecrackers that just got tossed into a steel trash can, leaving bassist Bruce Thomas to fill up any available space with bottom. Just like the old days. All that was missing was Elvis' persistent sneer and pigeon-toed stance--pre-'82 mainstays for the man once called "the Sultan of Spite."

The Mesa show amply demonstrated that Elvis can still rock with the reckless abandon of yore, even after turning 40 and touring with a string quartet.

True, some of the menace of "Lipstick Vogue" was gone, but as a celebratory encore, it was no less thrilling. Costello himself seemed genuinely surprised that this devoted crowd cheered loudest whenever he coaxed Neil Youngish white noise from his Fender Jazzmaster. Never one known for his ax-wielding prowess (he's gone as far as billing himself Little Hands of Concrete on several albums), Costello nonetheless pulled off a riveting and emotional solo at the close of "Party Girl." Things even got downright playful when he engaged in a call and response with Nieve during "Clown Strike," ending with the keyboardist tossing in a few bars of "My Favorite Things" from The Sound of Music. "I don't know how the hell that happened," Costello shrugged.

Unlike Pink Floyd's stadium extravaganza last month, this show's prop tally consisted solely of one tiny bust of Beethoven on Steve Nieve's monitor. And, even though the set leaned heavily on the first three albums, you could hardly call this a "greatest-hits show," since Costello omitted his two lone Top 40 hits, "Veronica" and "Everyday I Write the Book." Instead, he juxtaposed a dozen Brutal Youth songs with 15 older favorites, neither sounding terribly out of place. In fact, given the new album's characteristic brittle sound, the live show sounded even more produced and polished than the studio work, which may qualify as a rock n' roll first. Although Elvis Costello and the Attractions may still sound like last year's model, the new material proves that both were built to last. Crash Test Dummies opened up the show while it was still daylight, to better catch people wearing pajamas. The band saved its two hits for last, "Pajamas in the Daytime" and "Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm," which sticks to the roof of your mind long after you've forgotten the rest of this group's repertoire. Although entertaining, something about lead singer Brad Center's stage demeanor is off-putting, particularly in the efficient way he introduced the other members of the group, oozing with the clipped insincerity of a flight attendant indicating where the emergency exits are.--Serene Dominic Southern Spirit Tour 94: .38 Special, Marshall Tucker Band, Fabulous Thunderbirds, Outlaws and Barefoot Servants

Compton Terrace
May 17, 1994

Judging from the paltry few vehicles parked in Compton Terrace's vast and dusty lots at concert time, and the not-so-steady stream filtering in, the verdict was plain: Southern Spirit was a severe stiff.

Yes, instead of the raucous, rootin'-tootin' throngs of glory days past (and, perhaps, present among other sheds along the 43-show haul), this aging, five-ring circus of ersatz grits rockers--Barefoot Servants, Outlaws, Fabulous Thunderbirds, Marshall Tucker Band and .38 Special--would be plying its ancient trade before but a small, intimate gathering.

The tour's sponsoring rock station had been giving away tickets by the fistfuls all week, but its competition last Tuesday evening was ferocious: Junior Brown had lured the hip country crowd to Scottsdale, Elvis Costello was holding court in deepest, darkest Mesa and--Spirit slayer of them all--your Phoenix Suns were tangling with the Houston Rockets in the NBA playoffs.

When was the last time a Phoenix Tuesday night offered so many entertainment ops?

But you know, it could've been worse. After all, it was a beautiful, balmy evening on the desert and, by the time the tour's middle offering, the T-Birds, took the stage, about a third of the Terrace's rolling hillsides and steel reserved seats were filled with enthusiastic, if largely lubricated, Southern-rock fans.

Just watching them would prove to be among the entertainments offered: Harley-Davidson was well-represented via black tee shirts, including Sturgis rally tees commemorating the past two decades of that annual South Dakota event. There were plenty of thinning-haired, big-bellied biker dudes with their tattooed molls around--and, in one representative setting, with their trio of pajama-clad towheads, all hunkered down on a pink blanket. A small, awful, ugly stand of skinheads glared menacingly toward women and small children, but clearly wanted no part of the Harley hogsters: This tour may have been dubbed "Bubbapalooza" by one media wag, but there were precious few be-Stetsoned cowkids on the premises.

Still, there was music. The Outlaws, in their prime a marginally talented, derivative band, opened the show promptly at 5 p.m. and proved again they are marginally talented, derivative--and now old, too. The Barefoot Servants looked old (their bass player was a dead ringer for the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi), but this obscure act boasted a sharp, hungry sound thick with hard-guitar blues and raw, mean rock. One of their eight tunes, "Drivin' My Muscle Car," was especially sinewy and promising. Their self-titled CD might well be worth a listen.

Austin, Texas' Fabulous Thunderbirds are a sad shell of their old, bluesy selves. They sounded tinny and trite, and their signature song, "Tuff Enuff," was delivered most wimpily.

The Marshall Tucker Band, however, delighted the gathering with extended takes of their finest: "Fire on the Mountain," "Searchin' for a Rainbow," "Heard It in a Love Song," "Can't You See," et al. That sweet blend of textures--amplified steel and sultry flute along with full-throated vocals--was most satisfying to those of us reaching back in time. Twenty-three years and 18 albums later, this group of pros pounds it out still.

Alas, it's sad to report that .38 Special, the show capper, can't boast the same ethic. With a cardboard cutout of main bandman Donnie Van Zandt subbing for the real rocker (who was out with a hoarse voice, we were told), the group flat misfired. By their third tired tune, many in the crowd sought egress, some wondering aloud how the Suns fared and others worried about taking their buzzes to bed early enough to be fresh for work on Wednesday.

Can you say "old

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