Shonen Knife, Screaming Tea Party, Smallgang, Former Utopia

Owain Paciuszko 25/05/2010

Firstly, apologies for this review finally trundling onto the information super highway so long after the gig has been played, but this - and other excuses - are best kept outside of a gig review and can be found by sending a stamped, addressed envelope to Owain @ Owain's Flat, London.

Anyway, in the wake of the UK release of Shonen Knife's entertaining pop-rock LP Super Group record label and events company Damnably took the Osaka three-piece on tour, culminating in this date at London's Scala.

Racing over from work I arrived at the Scala a little after the advertised time for doors and was pleased to find, after drinks had been bought, Former Utopia already in progress. I'd seen the act before at Jamboree in Limehouse and controversially compared him to some other 'loud acoustic' singer-songwriters, but, this time around Former Utopia were plugged in and accompanied by a drummer. This leant more grandeur to the songs and helped emphasize a style much closer to Smog's Bill Callahan. The set was intimate and charming, though the last track descended into a rather disappointing electric chug.

Up next was London four piece Smallgang, who had been very impressed with at a show a month or two previously, and they upped their game here. Though dealing with a shorter time on stage they condensed their act well, shifting the focus onto just one of their two vocalists and tracks like Cockpit bellowed gloriously out across the hall; falling somewhere between Regeneration-era The Divine Comedy and Stephen Malkmus at his most post-punk.

Alas the ascending scale of quality came to a crashing halt with Screaming Tea Party who seem to have their fan base, but I, personally, wasn't impressed with what felt like faux-punk aesthetics of the highest (or lowest) order. The drummer seemed to be in a different band, there was little coalescence between the three members and at times it was embarrassingly like watching school children who had just seen a video of a great rock concert and were pretending to smash their instruments but knew they couldn't because mum would tell them off.

Shonen Knife took to the stage too rapturous applause, eagerly anticipated, this act has been around since 1981 and has been lauded by the likes of Thurston Moore and Kurt Cobain. Lead vocalist and guitarist Naoko Yamano is the only remaining member of their original line up and over the years departures and tragedy has forced them to adapt. In this current guise, with brand new drummer Emi Morimoto, they seem to be forcing a lot of the more fun and arch aspects of rock and this was emphasised by careful head-banging and movement around the stage. They performed their songs with the precision of a well rehearsed band, but overall lacked a certain life that one would hope for from a live gig. Or perhaps I'd just become a raging cynic after enduring Screaming Tea Party?

Regardless, this was an enjoyable night and balanced a veteran act that continue to put out good records alongside an exciting new group on the verge of releasing their first.