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Shonen Knife - Babylon, Ottawa, 11/3/2005

  by Andrew Carver

published: 21 / 3 / 2005

Shonen Knife - Babylon, Ottawa, 11/3/2005


Japanese pop punkers Shonen Knife will celebrate their quarter-century anniversary next year. At a long awaited Ottawa show, Andrew Carver watches them play a warmly received set to a very mixed crowd

It’s been a long time since Shonen Knife began their career as artless pop-punkers – mind-boggling though it seems, this is a band that will celebrate its quarter-century anniversary next year. When Shonen Knife’s debut 'Burning Farm' was released back in 1983, Nakao and Atsuko Yamano were girlish Japanese Ramones fans. Twenty-two years on, and surprisingly little has changed, except perhaps the girlish part, and even that just barely. There was an interesting (and large) crowd. Some in the audience were still wearing funny animal pyjamas when Shonen Knife’s debut came out; some were old enough to have grown children themselves. There was also a small group of Japanese expatriates - university students and the like, I presume. The show was started off by local act the Empiricals. The quartet's tasteful instrumental music, performed by a guitarist, keyboardist and a pair of percussionists was well-played but in some ways antithetical to the poppy joy of Shonen Knife’s unskilled enthusiasm. The Empiricals' music’s root in Asian film scores was, in hindsight, a slightly specious reason for inclusion on the bill. Shonen Knife received a warm welcome from a crowd that had waited a long time for the band (and already been jilted once when a performance fell through). Since they formed, Atsuko Yamano has moved to the bass and the group has gone through a succession of drummers. The latest is Etsuko Nakanishi. In addition to being hands-down winner of the World's Cutest Drummer title, she did a first-rate job of propelling and anchoring the music. Sporting some Mondrian-inspired stage duds, the band launched into two dozen songs. The set opened with the appropriately titled 'Konnichiwa' (naturally!), and included such crowd-pleasers as 'Tomato Head', 'ESP', 'Kappa Ex'., 'Ride On The Rocket' (complete with phaser pedal-assisted wooshes), The Ramones' 'I Want To Be Sedated', and a 'Rubber Band' sing-a-long. Songs from their latest (e.g. 'A Map Master', about Nakao's bad sense of direction) and English versions of songs slated for an upcoming Japanese release were also played. I particularly liked the one about catching a spider. The group also went through some less-than-expert rock moves: Jumping (okay, bouncing and the occasional lunge), vaguely coordinated guitar-dipping, and hairshaking, as well as some drumstick pointing from Etsuko. One might have to suspend one’s disbelief that Nakao hasn’t quite learned how to do a “rock jump” after 24 years, but the vast majority of the crowd easily managed the feat, calling the trio back for a pair of encores. While it wasn’t a transcendent experience (at least for me – one balding gent in a Nirvana sweatshirt was apparently having a religious experience) it was a lot of fun.

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Shonen Knife - Babylon, Ottawa, 11/3/2005

Shonen Knife - Babylon, Ottawa, 11/3/2005

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