weather icon Clear

Japan’s indie rockers Shonen Knife aim to make you smile

The song goes down like a handful of candy hearts inscribed with the name of the city in question, an ode to Vegas as sweet as cherries aligned on a trio of slot reels.

“I like Las Vegas, it’s a glamorous fantasy world,” Shonen Knife singer-guitarist Naoko Yamano chirps on “Las Vegas,” her every utterance sounding as if it was delivered with eyes wide as hubcaps. “I want to go to Las Vegas, everybody’s having fun. Even if you say it’s decadent, I don’t mind ’cuz it’s fun … at buffet, I eat so much food. Breakfast, lunch and dinner every time.”

Yamano’s enthusiasm, a thing as unbridled and naturally occurring as a wind storm, is far from a product of artistic license.

“I love Las Vegas,” she says. “I have been to Vegas three times. Two times were for my holidays. I lost some money, but I enjoyed buffet and Cirque du Soleil’s ‘O’ and the Beatles cover band show. They were so fun!”

Fun and exclamation points — lots of them — are as central to Shonen Knife’s repertoire as guitar, drums and bass.

It would be hard to name another band that ever displayed as much earnest, awesomely precocious joy for the small things in life that make them happy.

They pen tunes about their favorite condiments (“Wasabi”), favorite pastimes (“Cycling Is Fun”), favorite fruit (“Green Tangerine”), favorite treats (“I Wanna Eat Cookies”), favorite household cleaning products (“Tortoise Brand Pot Cleaner’s Theme”), etc.

Basically, their discography is one big happy face emoji spread out over 19 albums dating back to the early ’80s. Their first major label American release, 1992’s “Let’s Knife,” coincided with the ’90s alt-rock and grunge boom, and within this context, Shonen Knife shined particularly brightly — their tunes are as radiant and blood-warming as the Seattle skies are dark and bone-chilling come fall.

They became darlings of the indie set, championed by the likes of Thurston Moore and Kurt Cobain (legend has it that a copy of the band’s “Rock Animals” was found on Cobain’s turntable when his body was discovered in April 1994, suggesting that it may have been the last record he ever listened to).

Sharing the Ramones’ fondness for ’60s girl groups and earworm harmonies, these ladies’ self-described “Candy Rock” is as sugary and addictive as that appellation suggests. A few years back, they released a tribute album to the Ramones, but really, isn’t that what their entire 36-year career has been?

Unlike those iconic New Yorkers, though, Shonen Knife’s catalog pointedly doesn’t contain many sharp edges.

“I’m always trying to find good topics for my lyrics for Shonen Knife,” Yamano explains. “It’s easy for me to make melody lines but hard to write lyrics. I don’t want to write about negative matters and am embarrassed to sing about love. Ultimately, I write about the simple pleasures which make me happy.”

As the band’s last two records, 2016’s “Adventure” and 2014’s “Overdrive,” have underscored, these pleasures also include amp-smoldering riff rock.

“I really love ’70s British hard rock like Judas Priest, Black Sabbath or Rainbow,” Yamano says. “I also like Kiss very much. In the ’80s, I wrote some hard rock tunes like ‘Antonio Baka Guy’ or ‘Cobra Versus Mongoose.’ The concept of the recent two albums are ’60s and ’70s rock and hard rock.”

One of the most rippin’ tracks from “Adventure” is “Rock’n’Roll T-Shirt,” a celebration — what else? — of the cherished concert tee.

What’s Yamano’s favorite?

“My favorite rock and roll T-shirt so far is Judas Priest’s ‘British Steel’ shirt,” she says. “I bought it at their concert in Osaka, Japan. I really like their music. I keep most of all our T-shirts at home. I recently took pictures of them. I have a plan to archive at our website.”

Though Shonen Knife has been at it since 1981, the band’s stop at Beauty Bar on Thursday will be Yamano’s first time playing here — a previously scheduled gig in 2007 was canceled.

She’s happy to be visiting — meaning she’ll probably write a song about it.

“I’m trying to write about positive things,” she says. “Those things are every person’s common topics, and I’m sure they can make people smile.”

Contact Jason Bracelin at jbracelin@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0476. Follow @JasonBracelin on Twitter.

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.
Ellis Marsalis, New Orleans jazz patriarch, dies at 85

Because he opted to stay in New Orleans for most of his career, his reputation was limited until his sons became famous and brought him the spotlight.