In beehives and Fifties dresses for their cameo in Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill, The 220.127.116.11's looked as if tofu wouldn't melt in their mouths. But as fighting broke out at the Windmill, a pub venue in Brixton, they showed they were used to showbiz's seedier side. With its tiny stage in the corner, obscured by pillars, the Windmill was awkward enough without hosting last week's hottest ticket, an all-girl trio from Japan. It was no wonder that, as people forced their way through the crowd to get a better view, a scrap broke out down the front.
As the aggressor was turfed out, the band looked on, alarmed. But rather than stop, they played on quietly. Once order was restored, the singer and guitarist, Yoshiko "Ronnie" Fujiyama, roared: "One more time", and the band were back into their scratchy groove.
This response was just another sign that the garage-rock group are no mere novelty act, an error you would be forgiven for making, given how they came to our attention. First was their appearance on stage at the House of Blue Leaves before Uma Thurman took out Lucy Liu. Then, their anthem "Woo Hoo" soundtracked Euro 2004 via a beer advert, and its infectious "Woo hoo, woo hoo hoo" refrain later became omnipresent at Glastonbury. It all marked a startling change in fortunes for the band, who formed in 1989.
This night, the group could easily have sold out a mid-sized venue, but they stayed true to their underground roots by merely adding more dates to their debut UK tour. For their first London appearance on this stint, the three-piece ditched their costumes for a more casual look. Ronnie and the drummer, her sister Sachiko Fujiyama, came in bad-girl black tops and jeans, a look that mirrored the rockers facing the stage in greased-back hair and Stray Cats T-shirts. The bassist, Saki Horio, wore a girly vest top. A good 10 years younger than her colleagues, she joined the group after the Kill Bill cameo, but has been accommodated within a tight unit.
Ronnie, though, stood out with effortless cool, even as she smiled all through the set - apart from during that isolated outbreak of fisticuffs. Her deft command of feedback helped, along with an engrossing line in sharp, short solos, especially on a sleazy take on "Green Onions" that made the Booker T and the MGs version sound positively hung-up.
Their music encompassed Sixties girl-groups, Dick Dale surf pop and psychedelic garage rock, though in the Windmill's soupy sound-system, the latter's primal beats and punk guitar won out. Even with the help of some attractive harmonies, Ronnie's raw vocals did little justice to the group's bubblegum pop pastiches, but she could belt out the more rocking numbers. A swampy "I'm Blue" gave hope that the band would be no one-hit wonder, before their take on "Harlem Shuffle" that was more a 100m sprint.
The group's command of English was on the level that caused so much base humour in Lost in Translation. Attempts to converse with their audience got no further than the front couple of rows. There may have been something about teaching people the Japanese for potato, but I wouldn't swear to it. Thankfully, most songs had such basic vocabulary that language was no barrier.
That was the only characteristic the 18.104.22.168's shared with Shonen Knife, the last Japanese female combo to make it to these shores. Ten years ago, they failed to build on the patronage of Nirvana's Kurt Cobain, but that twee outfit could never inspire the devotion that is already flowing the way of The 22.214.171.124's.
An encore brought forth pogoing, especially from a bunch of fortysomethings who were risking life and limb in the same way as those midlife-crisis victims on their top-of-the-range motorbikes. The visceral power of this band provided a safer, and just as satisfying, alternative.
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