After three decades of world tours and ever-rotating band members, Japanese punk-pop legends Shonen Knife are still smiling and rocking out. With their gazillionth European tour completed in May and an upcoming Japan tour in July, the delightful trio is still hitting the stage with songs about Barbies, banana chips, socks and superheroes.
Cutesy? Not Shonen Knife. Cutesy doesn’t survive for 29 years and record 17 albums–not through the ebbs and flows of the rock music market and the advent of the Internet age, anyway. Cutesy doesn’t attract a fan like the late Seattle rocker Kurt Cobain, who invited the ladies to tour with Nirvana in the early 90′s. Nor does cutesy compel dozens of alternative rock bands like Sonic Youth and The Mr. T Experience to cover them in a tribute album, which happened in ’98.
So what it is about the trio that has captivated the world for so long, even though just one original bandmate, frontwoman Naoko Yamano, remains? Shonen Knife, formed by Yamono and her sister in Osaka in 1981, takes a boatload of musical inspiration from the Ramones (including straight up covers), using their simple chord progressions, surf-y innocence and unrelenting volume. But unlike The Ramones, Shonen Knife has had time to refine their musicianship over the years–which is evident when you compare their early, fly-by-the-seat-of-their-pants album Burning Farm to the crisp tunes in their album Free Time.
Shonen Knife also has a timeless, muted appeal, never purporting to live the decadent rock ‘n roll lifestyle that froze other bands in time. If they’ve made dough in the last few decades, you wouldn’t be able to tell by their no-frills live shows and videos as Yamano, now with drummer Emi Morimoto and bassist Ritsuko Taneda, merrily takes Shonen Knife into a fourth decade of whimsy, optimism and songs about food.
Spare rock songs that showcase the heart and enthusiasm of these ladies. They’ve inspired everyone in the industry and promise to keep bringing the noise for a long time to come.