Here at Up on the Sun, we're constantly shaking our fists in frustration watching band after band head to Tucson and pass us by. Last night, we rebelled. If Tucson's going to take our bands, we're going to take Tucson! At least that was the sentiment running through my head as I barreled down I-10 toward the Shonen Knife show at Plush.
Shonen Knife freaks will tell you that the band formed in 1981 in Osaka, Japan. They'll add that much of the band's notoriety outside of the Land of the Rising Sun is based on their ability to charm their way into the hearts of their listeners regardless of language barriers (though most of their songs are performed in English albeit with heavy Japanese accents) by singing about delicious food items, troublesome house pests, and heartfelt observations about everyday life. Of course one of those hearts so charmed by the musical talents of Shonen Knife belongs to Kurt Cobain who asked the band to tour with Nirvana across the UK and U.S.A. in 1991 and propelled the band further in the global music scene.
These days, Shonen Knife is still fronted by Naoko Yamano (at almost 49-years-old), but Atsuko and Michie have been replaced by Etsuko Nakanishi on drums and cuteness, and most recently Ritsuko Taneda on Bass and occasional vocals not only live but on the band's latest album Supergroup.
It's refreshing to note that Shonen Knife are music fans first and foremost. Their performance of "Ramones Forever" a track dripping with Nostalgia for the band's youthful discovery of The Ramones is an obvious giveaway, as is the intro song "Shonen Knife" on 712 which lists The Beatles, Redd Kross and the Buzzcocks as other influences.
As such, there was a certain air about them as they took the stage in their subtly patterned skirts color-coded for each member. They tuned their instruments by hand with the attention and care of a band that's still trying to make it. During the opener "Konnichiwa" they banged their heads and struck rocker poses with one leg up on the monitors with a level of enthusiasm usually reserved for girls playing dress up. That they were having as much fun playing their music as the Plush audience had listening to it was as obvious as the plastered smiles on their faces; and it was absolutely infectious.
It was almost impossible not to laugh out loud as the band strummed through "Banana Chips," "I Wanna Eat Choco Bars," "Muddy Bubbles Hell," and "Giant Kitty," which had the crowd shouting "Big! Big! Big Cat!" along with Naoko.
Shonen Knife rocked through a three song encore that included "Twist Barbie" and a cover the band recorded for a Carpenter's tribute album "On Top of the World" requested by a shout out from one of the audience members. Atsuko Yamano, currently living in the U.S., joined the band on tour to perform the first encore song each night; "fruits and vegetables."
Post performance, all three band members headed directly to the merch booth set up on Plush's outdoor patio to sign autographs and take peace-sign photographs with their fans. Name another band willing to forgo stomping back to their trailer for spending time with their fans one-on-one after almost thirty years of touring and I'll happily purchase you your own bag of banana chips.
Plush was a little less than packed during the performance, so I know a lot of you missed out on seeing Shonen Knife (for the first time in four years by the way). Be sure to catch them next time. Even if I have to extend my journalistic jurisdiction two hours or so South, you can't bet I'll be there screaming like a Japanese school girl.
Last Night: Shonen Knife at Plush in Tucson
Better Than: any other Japanese band you've seen in the Valley.
Personal Bias: Choosing between Shonen Knife in Tucson and Melt Banana in Phoenix was no easy task. But the sake of my own nostalgic impulses, I had to see the Knife. The last time I saw them was at Star Club in Kobe, Japan opening for Ga Ga Ga SP.
Random Detail: "Jet" on Supergroup is a cover of a Paul and Linda McCartney classic.