Shonen Knife, CJ Ramone, L’Assassins
Amsterdam Bar & Hall
St. Paul, MN
June 10, 2015
Amsterdam is a venue that’s not new by any means, but still feels to be establishing itself in St. Paul. The sound is excellent with pretty good sightlines and it holds a nice size crowd, but the booking has always been a strange variety of styles that just don’t really lean toward my liking. Recent months have gotten a little closer and I finally got back for Wednesday’s show.
With an opening set from local 4-piece rockabilly femme fatales L’Assassins, the crowd trickled in. The older sect seemed to arrive early, with a good headcount of gray hairs in the audience, and the younger arrived later in the evening, closer to the final two bands’ pre-listed set times. While as a customer I love pre-posted set times, opening bands have to hate it.
CJ Ramone played second of the three acts, and his set delivered almost exactly as expected. Perhaps something I’d say about the Ramones as a band as well—not that I had the privilege of seeing them in their day. They just seemed (among other glowing adjectives) to be extremely reliable. He was tight, to the point, and personable. Things have changed and he’s cut the locks and sports a Yankees hat instead of the leather jacket, but there’s a clear connection to his old band. The self-promotional tour t-shirt, the limited crowd interaction, etc. Even if there was only one “1-2-3-4.”
CJ’s set came from his catalog, including from the 7”, and a fair shake of his latest Last Chance to Dance, out since late 2014. The set was probably 60-40 solo material to Ramones songs, and he played a nice variety of old Ramones songs that are readily familiar but still outside of the primary canon. Songs like “I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend” were inserted alongside “Sheena Is a Punk Rocker” and “Blitzkrieg Bop,” and the attention was tastefully on new material with a “here’s what I used to do” vibe. There was also, of course, the honest homage to his lost friends, as in the song “Three Angels.”
Shonen Knife cleaned up afterward and they lived up to expectation. It was energetic, choreographed, and tight. The synchronized riffage and bowing guitar/bass contrasted by stand-up drumming was both entertaining and a musically respectful—more playful than mocking—and the real definitive point would be the band’s enthusiasm. Over 30 years in the game haven’t dampened the mood, and drummer Emi Morimoto’s infectious smile kept the atmosphere bouncy and carefree.
The set played maybe 50% off the newest album, Overdrive, alongside older material. They shifted back and forth in pieces, pairing songs by tone, and keeping the audience involved with a chattiness that was often hard to decipher from the back of the room due to the heavy accents. It’s heartening to see bands that positive and excited about what they do, especially one this seasoned, and Shonen Knife continue to prove their mettle at a point when many musicians start to coast.
With a unified tour t-shirt (“CJ/SK”), old-timers playing from the heart was a real theme. Music knows no boundaries, nor limitations, and the CJ/SK tour isn’t a nostalgia trip. It’s about the present.
All photography by Loren Green.