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