Japanese punk princesses Shonen Knife’s 2011 world tour conluded with their debut Albany gig at Valentine’s. Good freakin’ get, Mr. Glassman! Looking like 1960s stewardesses in coordinated Modrian-inspired A-line dresses, the girls raised a fuss and a holler through an hour and a quarter of unbridled rock joy. The main show was a rapid-fire set of original songs spanning the band’s 30-year, 20-album career, mostly simple three-chorders with equally simple topics (“Let’s Rock Society,” “I Am a Cat”). There was constant motion, cool rock moves galore, lots of heavy-metal hair tossing and throwing of the horns. And utterly charming broken-English stage patter. And tons of smiling. If a member wasn’t singing on-mic, she was smiling and singing along off-mic. If this is Shonen Knife’s shtick, I’ll take it over other bands’ grim and dour shtick (um, like the Feelies?) every day of the week. It was impossible not to smile back.
What was apparent from the git-go was that Shonen Knife are, on top of everything else, a very, very, very good band. New drummer Emi Morimito was a monster, and she and effervescent bassist Ritsuko Tenada are one of the more formidable rhythm sections you’ll ever see. Pixie matriarch, and sole original member, guitarist Naoko Yamano lords over the proceedings with grace, dignity, and loudness. Like the point needed to be proven, the set ended with a tune that bounced between jarring, precision speed metal and Sabbath-like sludge. We’re talking jaw-dropping.
The band left the stage after an hour and disappeared into the dressing room. After a few minutes, strains of Ennio Morricone’s “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly” began blasting out of the PA. This was the Ramones’ traditional entrance music. The girls stormed the stage wearing torn jeans and black leather jackets over Shonen Knife T-shirts. 1-2-3-4! They played eight Ramones tunes off their new tribute album Osaka Ramones. A grown woman from the somewhat geriatric crowd tried a stage dive. It worked. The room was totally unglued.
Many shows these days leave me vaguely empty; it’s either some old coot meaninglessly running down old triumphs or some young lost souls jockeying for position by copping stuff that was done better 30 years ago. This show left me shockingly blissful and goddamned glad to be alive.
Local vets the Last Conspirators opened the show in grand style, pumping out rock-solid songs over the humungous beat of Al Kash, the nuanced psychedelic slinkiness of my new favorite guitarist Terry Plunkett, and, of course, the boundless voltage of the irrepressible Tim Livingston.