It’s been almost two years since I last saw Shonen Knife; too long. They played Vancouver’s less-than-palatial Biltmore Cabaret; I got close to the stage with my camera.

As to the band and their music, I can’t really add much to what I said in that last concert piece and in 2006’s 5✭♫: Burning Farm. They’re under-appreciated and great. So I’ll stick with the venue and the context and the pictures.

Strange Magic · That was the opening act, named presumably after the ELO song; I always hated ELO. Like ELO, Strange Magic has a lot of musicians on stage (at least four guitars). They managed to rock out a bit and the lead singer, a woman with Asian genes, had some real charisma. If they exist online I can’t find them behind all the ELO.

[Update: Commenter “Colin” seems to have found The Strange Magic on MySpace.]

Strange Magic performs in Vancouver

The Biltmore · I’m used to being harassed when I try to use my SLR to photograph musicians. The current common practice, which is that it’s OK to bring a point-and-shoot but not a “serious” camera, is about to break down in the face of the serious small cameras now starting to arrive on the scene.

Anyhow, the beefy security guy, going over me outside the Biltmore in the autumn storm, wanted a look in my bag. My K20D isn’t big as SLRs go, but I had the 50-135 zoom on; the bouncer said “Damn that’s big camera. Better get it out of the rain, brother” and opened the door for me.

Good start; and then they had pints of decent beer for $5, and there was plenty of room to sit down if you felt like it. I couldn’t help but notice that at any one time, at least a third of the audience was leaning over their mobile devices communicating with somewhere else. I guess that’s just the way it is these days.

The big problem is that the stage is only maybe a foot high. More on that later.

Three Women from Osaka · As the membership has shifted over the years, it’s more and more obvious that Shonen Knife is really a vehicle for Naoko Yamano. I’m totally a fan; she writes great songs, sings with rock-’n’-roll gusto, plays simple to-the-point guitar solos really loud with beautiful tone, and leads a damn tight band.

Naoko Yamano of Shonen Knife performs in Vancouver

Which is to say, I see her as a giant of contemporary music. Unfortunately, she’s a very short giant; I happened to be in a passageway as the band came through it, and none of ’em would reach my shoulders. So Naoko opened her first between-songs rap, in her deliciously cute broken English, saying “You are all so... tall. And we are so short. But it’s OK, we jump sometimes.”

So unless you were right up against the stage, you really couldn’t see them. I managed that, behind only one row of short-ish people, at the stage-right corner, which is away from where Naoko stands. And there wasn’t nearly enough light, and shooting at f2.8, ISO 1600, 1/60sec, the camera could barely cut it; the autofocus was useless. So let’s just say these are about expression not precision.

The pix look cleaner and more composed and professional if I make them black and white, but I’m sorry, Shonen Knife is just not a black-and-white band. These pictures, blurry and colour-drenched as they are, look like what I saw.

The upside of being stage right was that I was right up next to Ritsuko, the band’s rookie member on bass and vocals. And boy, does she ever have some maximum-rock-’n’-roll moves.

Ritsuko Taneda of Shonen Knife performs in Vancouver
· · ·
Ritsuko Taneda of Shonen Knife performs in Vancouver
· · ·
Ritsuko Taneda of Shonen Knife performs in Vancouver

It was her first visit to Vancouver; hey Ritsuko, come back any time!

In terms of raw performing talent, my fave is Etsuko the drummer, who puts out an absolutely astounding chatter-and-roar, punctuating the songs’ flow perfectly without ever losing the precise back-beat thunder. I can’t imagine how much they have to practice to stay that tight at that speed.

Etsuko Nakanishi of Shonen Knife performs in Vancouver

Toward the end of the show, someone in the audience held out their point-&-shoot camera, and this weirdly Japanese moment occurred when the band struck a pose, back to the audience, for the roadie to take the picture. I was at the side of the stage holding down the “shoot” button and caught a piece of someone else’s flash.

Shonen Knife pose for a picture in Vancouver

You really ought to see them if you get a chance.


Comment feed for ongoing:Comments feed

From: Scott (Oct 27 2009, at 00:15)

Thanks for the review and pix. I've been a fan for at least 10 years, but always missed them when they're in town. Their web site hasn't changed a bit in that time:

(And we thought blinky text went away with Geocities!)

I'll catch them this tour. They're in SF this Thursday. Osaka here I come.

If you haven't already, check out Cibo Matto.


From: Stuart Dootson (Oct 27 2009, at 04:15)

Tim - it was your blog post on Burning Farm that turned me on to Shonen Knife - so thanks for that.

Now, if you like Shonen Knife, you might like Electric Eel Shock - another Japanese rock band (blokes this time), who take a decidely non-strait-laced approach to rock - their take on Black Sabbath's Iron Man has to be heard :-)

And if you get to see them live, do so - they're excellent. I saw them in a small club, with a crowd of maybe 50. They put on a show like they were playing to 50,000.


From: foresmac (Oct 27 2009, at 10:42)


Every venue is different in regards to photography. Smaller venues tend not to have any rules against it, while larger ones do. Beyond that, even the artists themselves often have differing rules to abide by.

I've done band photography for something like 15 years, and I've learned that it's always best to find out about photography before you show up. If you're familiar with the venue, that's fine, but if not it's worth calling ahead. It's also not that hard to figure out a contact for most bigger bands' management or record label and send a request for a photo pass. The latter is harder to come by if you're just shooting for your own personal enjoyment, though.


From: Colin (Oct 27 2009, at 20:09)

Your Strange Magic seems to be this Strange Magic:


From: hotrodfil (Nov 05 2009, at 05:59)

Ah- Shonen Knife! Saw them a century ago playing the dive that is the Waterfront in Norwich. Supported by the BMX Bandits.

"We bring present. Badge for 50p. Two for one pound. 1,2,3 GO...!"

Still have a badge somewhere.


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