Tuesday 30 June 2009

Shonen Knife / Smallgang / Baguette Bardot at Bloomsbury Bowling Lanes 29 June 2009

I’ve never seen Shonen Knife. I appreciate that is akin to someone who goes to the movies saying that they have never seen Star Wars or the Sound of Music. Shonen Knife is part of our history, and it is just to be assumed that I would have come across them at some time or another. But until tonight, I hadn’t.

The band is in London for a few days, playing a string of dates in tiny venues. Unsurprisingly, these swiftly sold out and a last-minute extra show is being performed here in the unique surroundings of the Bloomsbury Bowling Lanes. For the uninitiated, this is a 50’s retro-style ten pin bowling alley in the basement of the Tavistock Hotel. Tonight no-one seems brave enough to bowl, preferring to sit outside in the summer heat.

We have been promised surprises, and they don’t come any more wonderful and surreal than the first act, the quite impressively bizarre Baguette Bardot. The name is an exact description of what happens next – a strikingly tall and beautiful Japanese girl with a blonde Sixties hairdo dances and sings to vintage J-Pop numbers. Oh, and her arms end in baguettes rather than hands. It’s a spectacle that is both erotic and deeply strange and one that I will not forget in a hurry.

The crowd that she gathers in front of her go nuts, and some of the Japanese girls sing along to what are obviously standards. After her performance BB stays in character for quite some time, having her photo taken and enjoying a drink, despite her bready appendages.

The next act couldn’t be more different or more unwelcome. Crumbling Ghost play loud, lumpen sludge rock and kill the party mood stone dead. During their set there are so many people outside that we are rammed like sardines in the tiny garden.

Next up come smallgang, a band in which every member wears glasses, clearly through necessity rather than affectation. I rather like them, although this is not a view shared by all my colleagues. They alternate singers and what start out as deceptively deadpan songs often mutate into noisy but controlled thrashing. “I’m in the cockpit” (?) is a particularly fine tune.

The crowd surge forward for the headliners. Shonen Knife are two sisters, Naoko and Ritsuko and one newly recruited girl drummer (Etsuko) who have been playing joyful pop-punk for more years than it would be polite to mention. Let’s put it this way, their most famous fan was Kurt Cobain.

Shonen Knife are perfect illustrations of the subjective nature of music. Objectively, it could be pointed out that they can only play in a rudimentary fashion, that their songs are ludicrously simple and that they are not doing anything new. Objectivity can fuck right off, because Shonen Knife are brilliant this evening.

The basic Shonen Knife song is a rumbling ram-a-lama bass heavy garage stomp with nursery rhyme lyrics. The crowd jumps about and join the girls in flashing devil’s horns at each other. The girls acknowledge their debt to those other famous purveyors of deceptively stupid two minute rock songs with a track called “Ramones Forever”. It would do da brudders proud.

Possibly the highlight of a riotous set is the ludicrous ‘Barnacle’, which the audience is invited to holler along with, and which we do, with great gusto. It’s a song that goes, almost in its entirety - “Barnacle! (Hey!), Barnacle! (Hey!), This is a song about a barnacle! (Hey!)”. Compared to the dizzy silliness of Shonen Knife, the Ting Tings are as complicated as Stockhausen.

This is the perfect soundtrack to summer and as I leave I kick myself for not having seen them before this point. A fabulous evening. Rock chicks rule!


Anonymous said...

Baguettes for arms - very erotic?

Anonymous said...

Psst, Ritsuko on bass is the new girl.