Kurt Cobain's favourite pop-punk trio attract a diverse crowd to the Black Box
Kurt Cobain once said that seeing Shonen Knife made him feel like ‘a hysterical nine-year old girl at a Beatles concert’. I wouldn’t go that far, but the cult pop-punk trio from Osaka, Japan, are an undeniably charming bunch.
Well preserved, too. Despite being 50 years old, main woman Naoko Yamano looks as fresh as a cherry blossom as she takes the stage at the Black Box. Doing what you love for three decades keeps you young, it seems.
Amazingly, Shonen Knife have now lasted longer than the Beatles, Nirvana or their most obvious influence, the Ramones, did. For their 30th anniversary tour, it’s just guitarist and lead vocalist Yamano left from the original line-up, but she is ably supported by Ritsuko Taneda on bass and drummer Emi Morimoto.
Taneda shakes her mane like an Oriental Tom Araya, while Morimoto beats the skins pretty damn hard for a five-foot-nothing girl. Tonight is the group’s first ever Belfast gig, and they can’t thank us enough for being here. It’s true what they say about Japanese manners.
The threesome have drawn a diverse mob of punters from every sub-genre going – punks, goths, metallers, indie kids. There’s even an elderly gent in a suit giving it stacks on the dancefloor.
Of course, it’s debatable how many of these lot would be interested if Shonen Knife were, say, three blokes from Hull, but the band back up their cutesy image – matching outfits, oversized instruments – with top-notch tunes.
Unfeasibly catchy offerings like ‘Map Master’, ‘Sushi Bar’, ‘I Am a Cat’, ‘Capybara’ and ‘Konnichiwa’ have the crowd singing along by the first chorus of each. Even tracks from 2010’s Free Time – incredibly, their 17th album – are greeted like old favourites.
Lyrically, it’s simplistic stuff, but musically Shonen Knife aren’t as twee as you might think. Yamano and Co deliver tough, Stonesy guitar riffs, sterling solos, dirty bass and powering drums, with synchronised head-banging and vocal harmonies that would do the Beach Boys proud.
The band have stuck to their guns over their long career. No rock operas or experimental noodlings for these girls. Indeed, they’re onstage tonight for little over an hour.
For the encore, the trio return in their 'Osaka Ramones' guise for a quick rip through ‘Sheena Is a Punk Rocker’, ‘The KKK Took My Baby Away’ and ‘Blitzkrieg Bop’. Their idiosyncratic renditions of the Bruddas’ staples make these most played-out of songs fun again. And then for the hard-working combo it’s out to the merchandise stand to face the glare of a hundred iPhones.
Earlier, the audience had been warmed up by Belfast supergroup (or at least, superduo) the Continuous Battle of Order. Formed from the ashes of the Debonaires and We Are Knives, guitarist Hornby and drummer Craig Kearney are certainly accomplished musicians. But without much in the way of songs – or even vocals – their effects-heavy racket soars over this writer’s head.