I saw Shonen Knife sometime around ’94, and I remember this odd feeling that I was playing out a role that had been written for me by hipsters who didn’t really know what they were doing. Shonen Knife’s faux-naïve music — Ramones guitars, sing-along melodies in Japanese and Japanese-accented English, lyrics about candy and cute animals — was fun but didn’t really merit the kind of reaction it got in concert. Before that show, I had read that people threw candy at Shonen Knife onstage, and so I brought a box of candy hearts with me. The club was so crowded that I couldn’t get a good shot, and so I threw the whole box and hit guitarist Naoko Yamano in the head. Why am I doing this? I wondered. Why is everyone else in the club doing this? Why do their smiles seem so forced? Do they even like this band?
After Sonic Youth, Fugazi and, especially, Nirvana brought Shonen Knife to the attention of the American public, Shonen Knife had a brief fling with the mainstream. They even briefly had a major-label record deal. But American alt-rock audiences appreciated Shonen Knife ironically, and that was an ugly thing to do.
In fact, subsequent events have shown that Shonen Knife were trailblazers. They were one of few all-female acts in rock when they started in the early ’80s. When they first started touring the States, they were one of few acts in indie rock to hail from the non-English-speaking world. Today, indie is filled with Japanese noise bands, French electronic acts, and Scandinavian pop revivalists. And a high-gloss version of Shonen Knife’s bubblegum punk is the standard sound for today’s Disney Radio starlets.
SHONEN KNIFE: The Casbah, Tuesday, November 3, 8:30 p.m. 619-232-4355. $16.