Japanese band Shonen Knife brings thirty-plus years of goofy, formulaic, yet consistently catchy guitar pop to a Union Terrace show this Friday, August 3. Naoko Yamano and a rotation of bandmates have inspired fans from Kurt Cobain to the recently returned Redd Kross to offer praise, and inspired online lyrics transcribers to safely add conjunctions and articles so as not to excessively mock their tendency toward choppy English diction.
One kid quoted in an early-'90s MTV report on the band's stint opening for Nirvana called them "more hardcore than I thought."
It's probably fair to cubbyhole Shonen Knife as a band that loves its Ramones and wants to make something sugary and adorable out of it. On the other hand, maybe there's a bit of that scrappy, primordial feeling one gets listening to the early work of Mekons or The Ex. But whatever you want to hear in Shonen Knife you'll likely hear in one of the band's songs about the silly and mundane.
Here are just a few of many.
"I Am A Cat"
Whether or not you'll listen to a band sing about cats is a pretty reliable predictor of your future with that band. Here, Shonen Knife enters a "timeless zone" to "dance on a flying saucer" and orchestrate a moderate, jangly chorus of, simply, "I am a cat."
Just because the band occasionally sings deliriously about life's minutiae doesn't mean they forgot the specifics. When it comes to hot chocolate, the preference is "super fine brown ground powder" that's "hot as the Sahara desert" and has a bitter taste. There's something wondrously vague about the phrase "sweet smell from somewhere," along with a resourceful dash of excitement in the chorus ("mel-mel-mel-mel-mel-melting!") and a guitar solo that eventually comes down to just three notes over and over again.
In a tune that seems to nicely embody every bouncy-go-lucky song that ever got on MTV in the '90s, Shonen Knife goes "looking for tasty big mushrooms." And it's hard to think they've got tripping on the mind, what with a music-video set that could have been left over from a first-grade school play.
Yes, the chords on the verse make one fully expect to hear shouts of "tequila!" come the chorus, yet here Shonen Knife extols the virtues of the public bath and the ice cream you get afterwards. America's not lacking for solid pop-punk bands, but the song does kind of make you feel robbed of an adequate hygiene experience.
What, you didn't think this band stood poised to tackle the dire issues of our times? Me neither. But lest anyone shrug the band off as too adorable and fluffy, this song at least pulls off some earnest-punk-dude crunch.
The most ridiculous Shonen Knife song I've heard yet (and surely there are plenty out there to top it) boasts a chorus that's almost a slowed-down "Paperback Writer." It's also a nod to the psychedelic, which can make many ordinary things appear fascinating and inspiring. All the same, it's probably a rare trip that takes one to a land of egg-y emulsion.