It’s hard to believe that Shonen Knife have been together for 31 years. The self-described “oo-oo-ultra-eccentric-super-cult-punk-pop-band” from Osaka formed in an era where all-girl rock groups were a novelty in Japan, cassette tapes were the main expedient of music piracy and it was still socially acceptable for the British public to get Shakin’ Stevens to No. 1. Yet, despite existing longer than this reviewer has, they’ve retained a timeless, youthful exuberance that famously made Kurt Cobain “transform into a hysterical nine-year-old girl at a Beatles concert” and continues to make audiences giddy today.
Much of that has to do with their simplicity. Not even their most ardent fan would suggest they’re a deep and complex band. Nor could they ever be accused of dazzling technical accomplishment. Shonen Knife are simply Naoko Yamano channeling her youthful love of 60’s and 70’s bands from the Beach Boys to the Buzzcocks into short, often nonsensical, always charming bursts of bubblegum pop and punk-rock.
Most of tonight’s show saw the band adopt the guise of “The Osaka Ramones”, a faithful and suitably raucous tribute to the seminal American punks (HEY! HO! LET’S GO!), but there’s room for a preview of two new songs from their eighteenth album Pop Tune, which sound like pretty much everything else Shonen Knife has released over the last three decades but no worse for it.
All in all, they play for no more than 50 minutes, reflecting both the punkish brevity of their influences, and an astute recognition that their particular sound works best in small doses. They’re gleefully energetic, willfully uncomplicated – the funky laser effects that Cargo recently splashed out on seem out of place tonight – and at heart, they’re still the wide-eyed DIY band, joyfully paying tribute to their idols, that emerged from Osaka all those years ago. We wouldn’t have them any other way.