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Debutantes, Knives and a Lack of Cars

I’ve been going to see lots of things recently. Many things. It’s thanks to Dr Michael Reeve, who rather than wanting to pay me back for the horrendously expensive ticket I’ve got him for Spinal Tap next week has decided instead to chip away at the money mountain by getting me tickets to see other things. Which works rather well. On Wednesday his ticket buying activities peaked in their randomness with a gig at the Brixton Windmill – Shonen Knife supported by No Cars and The Debutante Hour.

Shonen Knife were maybe the least interesting of the lineup, despite being the headliners. They play punky j-pop, trying to emulate The Ramones while singing about sushi, jelly beans, fruit and the internal tensions that often cause supergroups to fall apart. They’ve been doing it for a while (28 years according to Wikipedia) and after a couple of songs of warm-up they smashed their way convincingly through their set, with a mini-mosh pit and lots of very polite thanking of the crowd. The scary thing was that the ladies of Shonen Knife were tiny – from my position in the crowd I couldn’t actually see them despite the rise of the stage; when they came off and ran ‘backstage’ (behind the bar) I lifted my arm to let the drummer through and she slipped underneath with a large amount of space to spare.

Coming up before them were No Cars, another japanese band, although one where the singer/guitarist’s english was rather less strong than that of Naoko from Shonen Knife, despite her having lived in the UK for 4 years. This did lead to a number of interesting bits of between song patter where the audience were left decoding the slightly obscure sentence structure while they ichi-ni-san-shi’d their way into the next song. They were rather big fans of Shonen Knife, with the lead singer painting KNIFE across her face, and did a bit of dress up, with a nurses outfit and big billowy kimonos evident. The finest thing about them was the visual aids – a drawing placed on a chair at the front of the stage for each song, giving some more information about the subject matter. Unfortunately the pillar I had chosen to lean against did not have a clear view to the stage and the only one I saw was of a fat smiling Ziggy Stardust, drawn in felt tip, wearing a Union Jack with a picture of the moon in the distance. There was also a kazoo solo and an accompanying bit of banter about how popular such activities are on some specialist japanese websites. At least, I think that’s what she said.

However, my favourite of the evening were the openers – The Debutante Hour. Visitors from New York and, according to the various researches I have done since, part of the anti-folk scene over there. They are a duet, with friends (this time Mia on cello), accompanying themselves on a mini drumkit of snare and bass, with a tambourine sometimes tied to the top of the box, and accordion (with a piano as well when they have one, which they didn’t the other night). They song sangs with overly complicated lyrics, at least one of which was about zombies and their instatiable lust for brains and guts, and the problems that the depopulation of the human race would cause for them. I haven’t heard a band that has ‘For Billy’ written on them quite so clearly for a while. I grabbed their european tour CD (which doesn’t have the same zombie song on, but does have another one) and as with Birdeatsbaby (who now have an album out) it’s good but not a patch on their live show – looks like I’ve got another band to try and catch on my one-day-to-be-scheduled american odyssey.

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