Marshall Crenshaw and the Bottlerockets at the Beachland Ballroom August 16, 2012

Cleveland’s Beachland Ballroom is a strange little venue; only recently converted from a Croatian dance hall, the place is somehow surreal when serving as a place to see rock n roll shows. By “recent”, I of course mean in terms of how long rock music has been around – something that is hard to tack down, but is something that Marshall Crenshaw seems to know a thing or two about.
Since the early 80s, Crenshaw has been churning out the kind of tunes that would be American Classics, had they been penned only a couple of decades previous and crooned by The Crickets instead of Crenshaw’s band of kind-of short men. (Crenshaw is not the world’s tallest man, and, supposedly, early on in his career, he refused to hire taller band members. This is not a fact. I read this on Wikipedia.I find it hard to believe, but, hey, it makes for an interesting anecdote, doesn’t it?)

Crenshaw is one of those musicians who seems like he should be at least as appreciated as Neil Young, or Elvis Costello. Apparently, this is not the case, if the strewn crowd at Marshall’s gig at the Beachland Ballroom Thursday night is any indicator. There were a handful of relatively excited folks – and more dads than you could shake a stick at – but it even took a couple of drinks to get anyone in the audience to sing along. Which is sad, because Marshall’s songs are incredibly catchy and downright fun to sing along to.
Crenshaw started out the evening with a slew of old favorites, a cerebral, punchy version of “Someday, Someway” from his 1982 self-titled debut; “Something’s Gonna Happen”, his very first release, and just about every other tune from any decent “best-of” collection.

“There She Goes Again”, “Cynical Girl”, “Mary Anne” – you name it, Marshall and the Bottlerockets (some of them, as Crenshaw joked,) played it. Honestly, what else would you hope for with a Crenshaw concert? You want to hear your favorite songs, but the problem being when you come to the realization that “your favorite songs” make up half of the man’s discography. Even the more obscure picks that Crenshaw made were perfect. “Television Lights” (which my introduction to Crenshaw when I was but a very pudgy girl obsessed with music. Now I am not so pudgy, but the fascination with tunes has yet to fall away.) was a particularly beautiful number, leaving some audience members (Read: me) overtly nostalgic and cooing.

The band plowed through a couple covers as well – Crenshaw joking about “what the crowd would least expect them to play now” before diving into Jimi Hendrix’s “Manic Depression”, as well as “Valerie” by Richard Thompson, and some other song I can’t remember.

Every song was a hit with the crowd, as much as anything could be a hit with the rather stodgy group. The Ballroom had laid out seats for concert-goers, making the show the single most comfortable one that I have ever attended – perhaps this was something that the Ballroom planned in anticipation of the highly-dad oriented crowd Marshall apparently attracts.

But perhaps that “dad” contingent is just a feature of the Ballroom – last spring I saw Pere Ubu there, and my boyfriend and I were by far the youngest in the room. However, Pere Ubu is a band loved by many dads, even if they tend to fall on the weirder side of dads. I am hoping to make it to a Shonen Knife concert at the Ballroom on Tuesday. I do not know if there will still be such a high concentration of dads, but I sure hope there will be. More word on that later.

Crenshaw loved the crowd, and he was quite happy to entertain the bunch late in to the night – even if that meant not one, but two encores. Encores made up of beloved Cranshaw classics – “Starless Summer Sky”, songs that portions of the crowd must have been hankering for throughout the performance – as well as a couple more covers, like “Little Sister” by Elvis Presley – who died thirty-five years to the date of Thursday’s show.

All in all, Thursday’s show was incredible, the only downfall being the fact that Crenshaw’s lead guitar had hardly enough volume – and it looked like he was pulling off some incredible solos.

So what if people don’t know enough to show up to a dirt-cheap performance by one of the greatest song-writers of the past half century. It would have been pretty amazing to walk in on a performance of “Cynical Girl” if you had never heard it. Might be a life-altering experience. Or maybe not. It would just make you want to take a look into everything you had been missing.


10/10 Shonen Knife: Rock Animals

Artist: Shonen Knife

Album: Rock Animals

Label: Virgin Records US

Key Tracks: “Concrete Animals”, “Catnip Dream”, “Cobra Versus Mongoose”, “Brown Mushrooms”

Release Date: January 25, 1994

Rating: 10/10

I didn’t know a lot about Shonen Knife the first time I heard them – and this makes sense for a couple of reasons.

a)      I was about seven years old on vacation, and heard them on a cassette tape my father was playing in our family’s hotel room

b)      It was 1999, and the Osaka trio’s peak commercial success had been about half a decade before, around the release of Rock Animals

Reasons aside, the songs stuck with me. And not because they were “cute” or because they were “quirky” but because the songs felt decidedly true. “Froot Loop Dreams” felt honest and real, even to a seven year old who would rather pick the marshmallows out of Count Chocola than chow down on the cereal harked by the song’s main character – Toucan Sam. These girls knew what they wanted to sing, and if that meant choco bars (and the deep desire to subsist solely on them), summertime laziness, or even the protagonist of the 1948 children’s book My Father’s Dragon.

Rock Animals is a unique creature for many reasons, and not even just because the album artwork is admittedly more commercial than anything else that graced the covers of the band’s previous releases. Everything about this album is more commercial – and for a reason – it was released on Virgin Records in the United States only a couple of years after Shonen Knife toured the UK with Nirvana.

The Nirvana.

As in Kurt Cobain on the tour right before the release of Nevermind, the album that would change everything for everyone in 1991. The music video for “Tomato Head” even face the critique of Beavis and Butthead in America, as well as regular rotation on MTV in the early nineties.

The legendary Thurston Moore even supplies guitar riffs on the album’s third track, “Butterfly Boy”. Sure, the English feels like it is pretty phonetic, and maybe not even in quite the same endearing way it was on earlier recordings, like 721 or Pretty Litte Baka Guy.

Rock Animals is a turning point in many ways for the group. This was their big break in America, and their following albums frankly did not reach the same kinds of audiences that this particular album did.

Regardless of the kind of complaining one could do about the album, gems like “Concrete Animals” stand out as some of the finest tunes in Shonen Knife’s discography.

Generally speaking,

Every park has them

Commonly they are at the sandbox

Occasionally they are vandalized by someone

They are painted many colors

Elephant, Raccoon, Tiger

What kind of lyrics are more punk rock than that? Yamano might as well have been David Byrne.

There is something so poignant and lonely about some of the snippets of Yamano’s words. Something lost. Something unique. Something that isn’t taken too seriously but is very much there.

They are too big to carry back home

They are too heavy for me to move

After the sun sets they have a secret party

Nobody knows, they dance together