Blessing up the Knitting Factory
Shinobi Ninja shakes the boroughs of New York
Photos by: Earl Maldoun
It was April Fools day and the spirit of revelry was alive and well at the Knitting Factory in Brooklyn NY this past weekend. Shinobi Ninja belted out most of their new album Bless Up to a rambunctious crowd opening the show with “Bang Bang,” which can be found on their LP. The show was beyond fun, and as guitarist Mike, aka Kid Shreddy, and I agreed that a musician usually only show 20% of what they can do on a studio album. The Ninjas proved that hypothesis that night.
You can hear many hip hop motifs in the Ninja’s melodies as a number of their tunes have vocals modeled after Public Enemy. But Shinobi Ninja reinvents Public Enemy-like cadences with hardcore punk instrumentation on some tracks like “Amped to 12” and “Ill Ish.” Wall flowers in the audience that didn’t move all night began to venture into the daunting waters of head banging once the Ninjas came out. Kid Shreddy cited Fear of a Black Planet, Public Enemys’ 1990 LP as an inspiration for some of the band’s writing.
Shinobi Ninja is sometimes labeled afro-punk though they have a “sensitive” side as vocalist Baby G explained while working the audience. A track like “Dancing in a Crowd” is example of their ambient softer side. Shinobi Ninja has a wide variety of styles, including reggae, R&B, and other genres that they meld together in their music. They are very creative.
I thought one of the high points of the show was when the Ninjas introduced one of their songs titled “$50,000.” It’s about hitting the lottery and Baby G did an entertaining monologue introducing the song while the band played in the background like those organs in the charismatic gospel churches.
The Ninjas kept the back beat going during the banter, adding to the hype. The Ninjas know how to work a crowd and keep the music playing in between songs. They can change the feel of a jam on a dime too.
I want to talk a little bit about the Knitting Factory itself. It is a venue that I came up with over the years and this was my first time at their current location in Brooklyn. The venue was originally on Houston Street on the Lower East Side of Manhattan in the 80’s. Then it featured a lot of avant-garde music.
Bands like King Missile, which was band from Brooklyn that did a lot of music with spoken word had cult classics like “Jesus Was Way Cool,” and their follow up “Martin Scorsese” would play there. The Knitting Factory would showcase bands that did offbeat music. I saw John Zorn & Naked City there several times in that small back room. Zorn, a saxophone player, is now a recognized modern composer. When Zorn was in Naked City he mixed punk, jazz, surf rock and noise, often in a juxtaposing montage of sound.
By the 90’s The Knitting Factory moved to Leonard Street in Tribeca in Manhattan. That neighborhood was then and is still known for as its connection to the arts especially folks in mainstream Hollywood cinema.
The Leonard Street location was a nice spacious duplex with more than one performance space. The Knitting Factory’s space in Brooklyn currently has two sections; a spacious bar with a kitchen with a selection of good eats at a good prices and a performance space that is a separate room, which is the size of a high school gymnasium.
If you get a chance, give Bless Up a listen. It is available on pink vinyl. As a live band Shinobi Ninja are great showman. At one point the entire sextette with the exception of the drummer jumped up in down in unison like a hoard of migrating kangaroos. The fun was infectious and spread to the audience. You want experience Shinobi Ninja live!!!