When I finally got to see them live, I was transformed into a hysterical nine-year-old girl at a Beatles concert.

– Kurt Cobain


I first heard of Shōnen Knife, a Japanese pop/punk Ramones-loving all-girl trio, during my medical school days during the heyday of all things grunge[1]. As you can see from the quote above, it was not surprising that Nirvana had Shōnen Knife open for them when they were on tour. Since missing Nirvana’s gig at Newcastle’s Mayfair as a student, it was a no-brainer when I learned that Shōnen Knife was playing Sheffield for the first time in 22 years that I should snag a ticket to see them.

The band’s changed their line-up a few times over the years, with Yamano Naoko (vocal/guitar) being the only constant since the band’s inception in 1981. The only Shōnen Knife song I know was a Carpenter’s cover of Top Of The World. So, I managed to get a couple of CD’s (Let’s Knife from 1992 and their current record Pop Tune) as well as downloaded their Live In Osaka album[2] from iTunes.

The thing with this Sheffield show was that it was one of three UK dates of this year’s European tour (the other two being London and, err… Stowmarket in Suffolk) and the venue was at a social club 2 minutes drive from the house. Oh, the gig ticket was just a tenner.

I arrived just before Former Utopia[3] got onstage at 9 pm, grabbing a tee and a £3 poster from 2003[4]. Former Utopia’s a three-piece from East London. Wasn’t sure what the vox/guitarist was singing about, but music-wise, I thought they were pretty solid. They played a 4 or 5-song set and once they were done, it was so easy to get to the front. As in proper first row kinda front with the subwoofers potentially blasting one’s gonads[5]. It was so low key that Naoko, Ritsuko and Emi got onstage and set everything up themselves. Emi’s drumkit was a lovely Canopus, Japan’s answer to dw. A Canopus snare is about £900 and they take pride in making their drums sound like it was mic-ed, without mics. Anyway, I digress.

Shōnen Knife promptly appeared onstage at 10 pm with their usual opener, Konnichiwa. If you look at the YouTube video below, they seemed a bit subdued at the live shows in the 90’s, but not tonight. Ritsuko’s a real rocker, going right up to the front that I got to play two strings of her bass at one point! They then played my fav hook-laden tune, Twist Barbie. If I had more space (and energy), I swear I’d do the twist like that 3 Abdul scene.

Naoko played a light pink metallic/sparkly guitar and a white retro 60’s Aria, and Ritsuko had a similar retro Aria bass but in red. I wished I had grabbed the setlist but from memory, I’m sure we were bobbing our heads to the likes of Banana Chips, Rubber Band, Riding On The Rocket and Flying Jelly Attack. Naoko-san said she was happy to be back in Sheffield after 20-odd years, the last time they played was as support to Nirvana in 1991 at the Octagon. Naoko-san also joked that as Sheffield is famous for its knives, returning to play this city was somewhat apt for a band with a monicker like theirs. Emi-san sang I Am A Cat from Let’s Knife somewhere in the middle of the set although I couldn’t remember if Ritsuko-san did the same.

They played two tunes from Pop TunePop Tune and Osaka Rock City. Naoko announced that they were gonna play a Ramone’s cover, and the crowd was shouting out song names before the girls played Rock ‘n’ Rock High School. Near the end, they played a couple of hard-hitting tunes – Emi-san was bashing the skins big time! They ended the main set with Cobra vs Mongoose. I think. Heh.

They got back onstage wearing the band tees[6] and played Top Of The World as the sole encore of the evening after playing solidly for a little over an hour. I was just about to head out when I wondered if I should check out the merch stand again. And there were Naoko, Emi and Ritsuko standing next to the stand with their towels, with only a few people going up to them as most of the people were crowded around the merch stand itself. For some reason, I actually brought the liner notes to my Pop Tune CD and the band happily signed it for me, following which I managed a grateful どもありがとうございました with a little bow.

Front row and meeting a band that was part of a cohort that defined a genre – all for a tenner. Best one in Sheffield, and one of my best experiences at a gig ever.

Photos on my flickr.com as per usual.

[1]For some reason, BBC’s Rapido and Channel 4’s late night The Word comes to mind when I think of this period of my life.

[2]Their first ever live album celebrating the 25th year of the band.
[3]Missed Cowtown from Leeds unfortunately.
[4]A pretty grotesque one come to think of it.
[5]Mine almost did during soundcheck.
[6]Must be a Japanese thing – the girls from SCANDAL do the same at their raibu shows too.