In fact, there was a good reason it seemed like a long time, as it had actually been two months since my last gig, when I saw The Stranglers and The Alarm at the O2 Academy, as reviewed here. That’s if you ignore the two forgettable cover acts at Eric’s a week before this, which I think you should.
I got there just in time to get a drink from the bar (sadly, just a pint of San Miguel, as the Guinness was off and they have no ale up there) before the first band came out – the first of a trio of three pieces, local band Good Grief.
Some of their influences were clear in the lead singer and guitarist’s Mudhoney t-shirt, with flavours of Ash, Swervedriver and Sugar, while bassist Paul reminded me of a cross between Lou Barlow from Dinosaur Jr. and Sebadoh and R.E.M.’s Mike Mills. They claim to be big fans of Superchunk, which you can also hear in their music.
One of the songs was written by drummer Matiss Dale, which was more Hüsker Dü-ish, while my favourite number was Punchlines that started off with what sounded like Scottish spoken word over a capo-d guitar that then featured some great backing “woo”s. Oddly it reminded me of The Hold Steady.
They also played an obscure cover – which it turned out was of Guided By Voices’ Game Of Pricks from 1995’s Alien Lanes, not one of the ten albums of theirs that I own (they have made over twenty, discounting multiple ep’s and box sets). All in all, a very fine support act, helping to set the tone for the evening.
Once they went off stage, I hit the bar again for a second pint, before being hailed by a pair of magical men – two of the three Trust The Wizards crew (the gloriously-monikered Chorizo Garbanzo and Kicker Of Elves (who was clearly made up with Good Grief’s choice of cover), and their mate Texas Paul, who’s featured on a few of their podcasts.
It’s quite a rare thing these days for me to go to a gig with other people, so it made a pleasant change to have someone to chat to between (not during…) bands, and we had an entertaining conversation that touched on Billy Corgan, imaginary boat piloting (or driving!) in the Med and the dangers of being too positive about other people, amongst many other stops.
Second band Leggy were a different kind of three piece, paying their first visit to the UK. Guitarist Véronique Allaer (complete with card suits guitar strap) and bassist Kerstin Bladh (a Kim Carnes lookalike, as correctly spotted by Texas Paul) looked like valley girls, despite being from Cincinnati, and were backed by the finely moustachioed Christopher Campbell on drums who looked like he’d stepped straight out of Breaking Bad.
After a minor key opener, they switched to the much thrashier Bruises. Most of the set unsurprisingly seemed to come from this year’s eponymous album, with it all sounding decent enough without quite moving me beyond that, though what I’ve since heard online has piqued my interest a little more. They closed with something that sounded like a thrashier PJ Harvey.
After some more Wizard-ly chat, it was time for the main event. Shonen Knife walked out onto the stage, with arms raised in salute, kicking off (as they apparently always do) with Konnichiwa from 1998’s Happy Hour.
They then went straight into my two favourite songs of theirs – Twist Barbie from debut album proper Burning Farm (1983) and Bear Up Bison (aka Making Plans For Bison) from 1986’s Pretty Little Baka Guy, leaving me wondering if they’d shot their bolt too early.
My Shonen Knife collection is fairly patchy – I have the first three proper albums from the mid-1980’s, and then nothing more until 2011’s Ramones tribute album Osaka Ramones, and this year’s Adventure, bought in preparation for this gig. However, that was enough for me to recognise much of the set list.
Curiously enough, I have just realised that I actually bought tribute album Every Band Has A Shonen Knife Who Loves Them (great title!) before I acquired any of their own records, which I presume is because I only paid a fiver for it (from the old Virgin Megastore on Oxford Street in July 1991, fact fans). It’s a pretty decent tribute record, featuring the likes of Sonic Youth, The Three O’Clock, L7, Lunachicks and Das Damen.
This was actually the third time I had seen them in action, but the first time involving payment as the two previous occasions in the early 1990’s had been at record stores (Rough Trade in Covent Garden and the aforementioned Virgin Megastore).
This was the band’s first visit to Liverpool in seven years, at a time when lead singer and guitarist Naoko Yamano was the only original member left. Since then her sister (and original drummer!) Atsuko has returned on bass, with Risa completing the line-up on drums.
After the first two (and best) tracks off the new album, there followed some stilted but charming chat from the band. Another two new songs came next, but this time not sung by Naoko as Risa took on Green Tangerine, followed by Wasabi sung by Atsuko.
They acknowledged the 70’s hard rock influence on this album, though at heart they are still a female Japanese version of Ramones. This was also reflected in the sisters displaying devil horns with their hands at the end of pretty much every song, while Risa enthusiastically raised a drum-stick high into the air to acknowledge the applause. Their enthusiasm was infectious.
Nods and smiles were exchanged with Kicker Of Elves who had noted pre-gig that most of their songs were either about food or animals – we certainly had bison, capybara, and cats representing the former, and tangerines, wasabi, barbecues and bananas on the edible score.
The jaunty Capybara off 2010’s Free Time was new to me, but typically kitsch. A second song was taken on by Risa, Loop Di Loop about a rollercoaster, taken from Brand New Knife from 1997. Appropriately enough, that came straight after a tune called Ghost Train.
There was great miaow-ing on Like A Cat from 2014’s Overdrive, with the set closing with the glorious Riding On The Rocket from Pretty Little Baka Guy and the clap-along Giant Kitty off Genki Shock! from 2006.
They went off briefly, returning all decked out in their own tour t-shirts for one final number, Happy Hour’s Banana Chips, leaving a delighted crowd. They’re a band it’s probably impossible not to watch without repeatedly breaking out into a grin, and they certainly got that from me.
The set was a great mix of old and new, songs I knew and ones I didn’t, so I can’t really complain about the fact that they didn’t play a few of my favourites like Burning Farm, Summertime Boogie, Public Bath and I Wanna Eat Chocobars. I hope they return for another gig in town next time they’re in the UK, as I would love to be there again.
I wore my red Buzzcocks tee to honour their punk-ness, as to my previous gig in fact. I only spotted a few other band t-shirts including Ramones, Public Enemy and K Records, although my gig companions were seemingly sporting some band t-shirts that I could not get a good look at.
If you want to get an email notification each time there is a new blog post (about once a fortnight, on average), then click on the “Follow” button at the top left of this screen.
Here is some of the music from the night on Spotify: