By TOM LAVENTURE
MINNEAPOLIS (October 21, 2009) – Guitarist and vocalist Naoko said she was raised on American and British Rock and Roll. When she started playing guitar as a teenager and dreamed of starting her own band; it was only natural that the music took on the style of her early punk and rock idols, rather than the Japanese pop scene that her contemporaries were playing.
Now, 27 years after forming Shonen Knife in 1982, Naoko remains the center of a band that has changed members but has returned to its root sounds of “guitar, drums and bass”, Naoko said.
Shonen Knife played First Avenue last week, the first time in two years. It was the sixth stop of its North American tour with 24 more stops before November 18. They already completed the Australian, New Zealand and Japanese legs of the tour, and will head to Europe next.
The band certainly has staying power and hasn’t lost its energy to handle a grueling tour. They filled the First Avenue 7th Street Entry room with fans that span the generations that have followed the iconic band over the years.
“I can be very powerful when I see their happy faces,” said Naoko. “It’s a source of my energy.”
Etsuko says that no matter how tired she is, once she is on stage she gets a lot of energy from the crowd.
Shonen Knife is touring to promote their latest album “Super Group”, the English language version of a Japanese album released in 2008. It features 10 new songs and a bonus track with their new U.S. label, Good Charamel Records.
With Super Group, Naoko said Shonen Knife returns to the basics. The songs still offer a variety of their signature fun sounding punk or metal and a cover of the Paul McCartney and Wings song “Jet”.
“We came back to the three piece band and it means the sound became more rock, and more tight,” said Naoko. “We used no synthesizers on the Supergroup album, just guitar, drums and base.”
The audience loved the title song, Super Group, performed as the third song of the concert. The show was a compilation of its library of short, fast and fun songs that give the band its unique flavor. The live show was a chance to see that these were very skilled musicians performing light hearted, sometimes tongue in cheek songs.
The costumes are also what make Shonen Knife stand out. Their bright jump suits were designed by the drummer Etsuko, and made for them by her aunt.
Etsuko was a touring drummer with the band and rejoined to become a full member in 2006. She said that she was a long time Shonen Knife fan and is very honored to join the band.
The founding drummer was Michie Nakatani, who left the band after 17 years in 1999. She was temporarily replaced by touring drummer Mana Nishiura, who left in 2004 to perform with the Japanese alternative band, DMBQ. She died tragically in an automobile accident while the band was en route from New York to perform in Minneapolis in 2005.
Naoko’s sister, Atsuko, a founding member and bassist, left the band to get married and moved to the United States in 2006. The touring bassist at the time, Ritsuko, stepped in full time and became a full member in 2008 to help complete Super Group.
Ritsuko said that while recording and performing she isn’t aware of the band’s popularity, but that she enjoys listening to the fans talk about the band. It is then that Ritsuko said she realizes that she is part of something very special.
Shonen Knife formed in Osaka, Japan in 1981.
“When I started to play I wanted to form a female band,” said Naoko. “I like female bands in rock.”
Naoko said that at the time she didn’t see a lot of difference in between a girl group or a boy band, but said it is convenient when the band can all stay in one hotel room. She said it is more comfortable on the road where the group must live closely together in compact situations.
After a few years and a few albums the band developed a dedicated underground fan base that eventually made its way to the America. By the mid 1980s they were opening for American acts such as The Ramones, Sonic Youth and Nirvana during the hey day of grunge rock in the early 1990s. Soon they were making television appearances and performing at the major rock festivals.
Naoko said that if she were not in a rock and roll band then she probably would have pursued her other passion, tennis.
“I want to be a professional tennis player,” she said. “When I was at home I played tennis a lot.”
She doesn’t get to play a lot of tennis on the road but said she is surprised that she can work up such a sweat by just standing in front of the microphone and singing.
Find out more about the band online at www.shonenknife.net and at www.myspace.com/shonenknife.