Shonen Knife @ The Annandale Hotel, Sydney (25/09/09)


Shonen Knife have been part of popular culture since the early eighties. The Japanese three-piece, all-girl, Go Gos-like rock band have a lot going for them, as my adjectives might have revealed. There may only be one original member left, but the band has become as synonymous with Japan as Astro Boy, whale hunting and vending machines.

Even if you don’t recognise their name, you would have heard them on a movie soundtrack (or maybe in a Microsoft commercial). I had a dream once where I teamed with the girls of Shonen Knife to battle Godzilla.

Ouch My Face! were on first, and my initial impression was that the recently disbanded Young And Restless had downsized and reformed. This wasn’t the case, but the intense, manic, skittish, punkish rock of Ouch was similar to the youthful raucousness of the Young. The more they played, the less Ouch seemed liked the Young, and the more they seemed driven and possessed and unique. I needed to buy their CD.

I Heart Hiroshima were the second support and showcased their jangly, disjointed, minimalist pop. Their sound is like numerous other bands around at the present (including fellow Queenslanders Operator Please and The Grates) but lacks the spark to make themselves distinct.

Coming on after Ouch My Face! made I Heart Hiroshima seem like something my grandmother might listen to. They are probably better suited to playing in the corner of an art opening where they can be ignored or drunkenly admired. I am sorry to offend fans of Hiroshima, but your band is bland.

Shonen Knife came on stage brandishing their new promotional towels, wearing the outfits from the cover of their latest album, Super Group, struck a few Status Quo poses, and launched in to their set. To call their music simplistic and their lyrics trite would not be inaccurate, but good music does not need to be complicated and overly philosophical, as the Ramones demonstrated so perfectly. Shonen Knife are sweet, rocking and enjoy themselves immensely. No band smiles as much onstage as these three girls.

Singer/guitarist Naoko is like Pete Shelley, if he was a Japanese woman who spoke broken English. Drummer Etsuko pulls expressions like a young Ringo Starr, but her drumming is much more powerful and energetic. Bassist Ritsuko is the newest member and has rock star poses that would make Dee Dee Ramone envious.

Their set contained songs from across their career and featured several tracks off their latest album, including BBQ Party and Muddy Puddles Hell. Their famous Carpenters cover Top Of The World also appeared, punctuated by Naoko’s amusing dialogue and the many, many devil horns thrown by the band and the crowd. Naoko was moderately successful having the crowd sing the chorus of Sushi Bar

“Sushi, sushi, sushi bar! Going to a sushi bar!

Sushi, sushi, sushi bar! Going to a sushi bar!

Sushi, sushi, sushi bar! Going to a sushi bar!

Sushi, sushi, sushi bar! Going to a sushi bar!”

...and making us do the hands for Pyramid Power. In true Japanese style, the band took photos of the crowd, and then invited someone on stage to take photos of them and the crowd.

Shonen Knife played for an hour, returned for three short encores, then disappeared, leaving fans to flock to the merchandise stand for mementos. And flock they did.

It is possible to view Shonen Knife as a one dimensional novelty act who should not have lasted this long. That kind of negativity is most likely sprouted by people who think U2 are the most important band in the world. I don’t listen to those Bono-worshipping sycophants, and I am thinking of starting a Shonen Knife tribute band to annoy them. A possible name is Ronin Spoon, because there is something appealing about masterless samurai cutlery.