Review by Lydia Fitzer with Photography by Rob Hadley

On Sunday night I was pulled back in time, up into space, and transformed into an Osaka Ramone. Didn’t you go? Are you jealous? You should be! All three acts were excellent. They followed one another beautifully, but were diverse enough to give three wildly different experiences.

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First to the stage were Birmingham band The Hungry Ghosts. They describe their style as slaughterhouse blues and trash country. Can you imagine it? Think of guitar riffs that soar along planes of wilderness, raising bones that lie beneath.

If you’re familiar with the Brum music scene you might have encountered them already. If you haven’t, you should look them up! They exude an almost sinister charisma, and their sound is completely intoxicating. They’re one of the most talented and original young bands on the scene today. They may have been around for a while, but I view them as young in that they’re so clearly in the first percent of their creative journey. It helps that, in my opinion, this is their best line-up yet. The added depth of sound combined with the broader artistic input has made their style both clearer and richer.

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The Hungry Ghosts opened their set with ‘Amerika’. This was one of the first tracks with the current line-up, and a guaranteed crowdpleaser for any fans in the audience. It is a little slower, though. I’d say they could have kicked off with a more energetic choice, but guitarist Billy Ollis gave a performance big enough to fill the whole room with sparks. It’s easy to tell that he’s a composer – his involvement with the music is a pleasure to watch.

While I’m talking about performance, I need to take a moment to talk about Joe Joseph – the crown prince of Los Fantasmas Hambrientos. I’m not saying he looks like Bowie, but he does have something of a Labyrinth Goblin King vibe on stage. His performance is entrancing. He’s every inch the rock star, from his body language to his speech to his spangly shirt. I also have to take a moment to admire his incredible vocal control. He uses a speech-like style to produce a distinctive range of sounds, the result of which is extremely striking. Joseph’s style is unique and uniquely difficult. I reckon most other singers would find replicating his vocals practically impossible.

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‘Super King King’ is one of my favourite songs by the Ghosts, as for me it was the first of their music to be fully characteristic of the style they’ve created. It made for intense viewing on stage. Partway though, Joseph started to run his hands down the mic stand, moving suggestively, breathing heavy and high. The tension grew. It was difficult to watch, but hard to look away. Without warning, he released an immense scream from the depths of his body. It was shockingly visceral, like having ice rush down your spine.

They ended their set with their newest (and as yet unrecorded) song, ‘Shake the Devil’, the chorus of which will remain stuck in my head for at least a week. It was an unbelievable finale. Joseph gave another great howl, staggering backwards from the sheer force of it. They sang “shake the devil out of your bones”, but if anything they pushed the devil into the crowd. Long live The Hungry Ghosts, and may they ever continue to haunt us.

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The first thing you need to know about KOLARS is that they have all the sparkles. All of them. The pair (Rob Kolar and Lauren Brown) are visually pure glam-a-billy. It’s magnificent. Do you think if I give Kolar enough complements he’ll lend me his jacket and shoes?

The second thing you need to know is that Brown is a tap dancing drummer. She danced rhythms onto a bass drum while simultaneously playing a stand-up kit, and it was the most dynamic and entertaining percussion I’ve ever seen. Brown towered atop her drum like a goddess, living her best life and yours too! She moved every part to the music. Even her teeth chattered to the beat.

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Kolar was in constant motion, dancing and showboating as if he was giving the last show on Earth. He didn’t have much of a choice – he had to use all his energy to be noticed beside the spectacle given by Brown. Don’t get me wrong, though – it wasn’t a competition. There was no doubt that the pair were a team. They made each other glimmer.

They describe their sound as sonic world, R&Beyond, space blues, and so on. It might just have been the setup, but hearing them live conveys far more percussive and far less spacey elements than listening to their recordings. Kolar’s vocal was smooth and bluesy, and lent itself gorgeously to the sensual feel of ‘Turn out the Lights’. He locked eyes with the ladies at the front of the crowd and reached out, crooning “you know how I feel about you”. Cheeky!

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By the time they started playing ‘Dizzy’, one of their most popular tracks, the whole room was dancing. I honestly didn’t want their show to end. They never dropped the ball with their performance, and the visual effect was spectacular. The records are great, but it’s all about the live performance with these guys. If you never see them on stage you’ll experience just a fraction of their charm. I can only wonder how many hours in front of the mirror it took to perfect their movements; force, attitude, sexuality and strength, never putting a finger out of place.

They ended the show with ‘Dangerous’. I could say that it was an explosive finish, but every song of the set was equally fierce. The beat was incessant and the rhythm was insatiable. They’d won over every member of the crowd tenfold. This was KOLARS’ first visit to Birmingham, and I’d highly recommend seeing them if they return.

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I felt privileged to have the opportunity of seeing Shonen Knife live, and with two of their original line-up (Naoko Yamano and Atsuko Yamano) no less! They were formed in Osaka in 1981, and have a rich history. If you’re interested in musical history and culture, their past is one you might want to look into. For now, suffice it to say that they have a worldwide cult following, and that I consider them to be living legends. They describe themselves as a “Ramones meets The Beatles brand of sticky-sweet punk-pop”. This is a perfect description. Over all the years and all the different line-ups, Shonen Knife have never lost the pure youthful force which drove their earliest work. Their image reflects their music. Their new costumes, designed by Atsuko, are totally punk powerpuff. This is how I will forever visualise them: Adorable guitar-wielding bad*sses fighting crime and the forces of evil!

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They blasted into the crowd’s eardrums with ‘Pop Tune’ and enormous smiles! The biggest grin was from drummer Risa Kawano without a doubt. I’m not exaggerating when I say that she beamed adorableness across the entire stage. Risa was pure exuberance, thrashing her hair to the music as though she was born to it.

They played ‘Twist Barbie’ very early in the set, and the whole audience was bubbling with enjoyment. It was first featured in their 1983 album ‘Burning Farm’ (which you should definitely listen to, by the way). ‘Twist Barbie’ bears the hallmark of Shonen Knife: quirky, playful, and punchy. Next, they thrust into the 2016 song ‘Jump into the New World’, proving beyond a doubt that their music remains just as cool as the day they were founded. Their sound has become slightly heavier in more recent albums, but they’re still the Shonen Knife which is so known and loved.

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Shonen Knife are very much known for their covers (they have an entire Ramones tribute album!) so it was fantastic to hear their version of Nick Lowe’s ‘Cruel to be Kind’. One of the many amazing things about Shonen Knife is that every style from which they draw inspiration becomes completely their own, regardless of how classic the original. Check out ‘Eat It’, a food-parody of Michael Jackson’s ‘Beat It’, if you don’t believe me!

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Speaking of food, they introduced what I can only describe as a gastronomic quartet of songs. They are women after my own heart. First came ‘All You Can Eat’ including Atsuko with a kazoo solo. It’s never a bad time to bust out a kazoo. Then there was ‘Sushi Bar’, ‘Wasabi’, and ‘Ramen Rock’. Who knew that noodles could be so hardcore? All featuring glorious glossy hair flips from Atsuko, and so much excitement from Risa that she struggled to stay in her seat. The audience were thrilled, and the entire venue crackled with energy. As the set drew to a close, Naoko and Atsuko came right to the edge of the stage and played their guitars close enough for the crowd to see plectrum hit string. They did this again and again, teasing the crowd with false finales. The applause was more deafening every time. When the last note finally crashed, the crowd wailed and growled with appreciation.

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For the encore, they returned to stage in their merch t-shirts and cracked out ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll T-shirt’. Hint hint. Well, if you insist, I suppose I’ll buy all of them! Their final song of the night was ‘BBQ Party’, and by this point my stomach was well and truly rumbling. I might suggest that if they’re gonna play so many food songs they should choose a venue with a buffet! The final moments brought a remarkably skilful tempo and volume build – the last note went off with a BANG!

Shonen Knife’s sound is addictive, and it’s impossible to not fall in love with them when you see them live. I for one can’t wait to see them again, and they promised to return to Birmingham. やった!

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See the complete photoset from tonight’s gig here.

One Response to “Shonen Knife + The Hungry Ghosts + KOLARS at The Hare & Hounds, Birmingham, UK – 15th April 2018”

  1. Mike Jolin Says:

    What you say about Risa is close to the truth, she is nearly born, not only to music, but, to Shonen Knife. Her Father is a musician and long time fan, who has raised his 2 daughters Risa and younger sister Rina, to play all kinds of music, from punk, to classical; including as part of the “family band” Brinky, a pop-punk band that began as the best Shonen Knife cover band, in Japan!
    Mikey

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