Words and photos Daniel Oh – Criminal Indifference
There is something seemingly subversive about a healthy dose of Japanese made punk rock on Australia Day eve. It makes my middle fingers twitch with excitement; a great way to see in Invasion Day and the sweet aroma of BBQ’s & beers looming merely hours away. Off to the late night rock‘n’roll den of Ding Dong on my deadly treadly I head.
Arriving at the door opening time of 9pm, already a large pool of people were awaiting entry and spilling out onto Market Lane. Even though I’m personally only familiar with four of Shonen Knife’s tracks, there is a real sense of tonight not being just a ‘gig’ per se, it feels like a piece of history or an event.
Shonen Knife were thrust into pop consciousness in the ‘90s when the grunge / alternative scene fell in love with them and subsequently took them under their wing. Kurt Cobain famously name checked the band as one of his favourites after being obsessed with their 1983 Burning Farm EP cassette and brought them on the road for the Nevermind tour with Nirvana.
“When I finally got to see them live, I was transformed into a hysterical nine-year-old girl at a Beatles concert” Kurt Cobain.
They even had a cover album made in their honour called “Every Band Has A Shonen Knife That Loves Them” which featured L7, Sonic Youth, Redd Kross and Lunachicks. The Breeders also took them on the road. This kind of exposure made their Banana Chips and already 10 year old career, international kitsch cult sensations.
Maybe it’s this much quoted Nirvana connection that gives this gig that sense of history, or maybe it’s the knowledge that Shonen Knife have been pop / surf / garage / punking for over 30 years now and just released their 19th album Overdrive. Whatever the reason there is a quiet sense of anticipation from the room full of punters awaiting the Ramones-esque pop punk trio all wrapped up in Hello Kitty smiles.
Before we get to Shonen Knife though, first up on the list was ZA! All the way from Barcelona. This two piece Boredoms-ish, Lightning Bolt-esque, International Harvester -like, prog psych soundscape of awkward time signatures and technical genius; was described by one punter as a “hardcore version of Magma who doesn’t take themselves as seriously”. Even without knowing who the hell Magma was (a French prog band from 1969-present), this reference still somehow seemed to make perfect sense.
The band started the gig by breaking the forth wall, the drummer onstage on his knees thumping out a hypnotic repetition of beat whilst a trumpet entered from the punters door playing in and around the crowd before joining his partner onstage, screeching his trumpet into the drummers ear whilst the drummer chants and screams. Queue head banging guitars over trumpet loops and thumping drums; epic. And then the dancing ensued. From a deep set squat of crotch thrusting gyrations came 70’s psychedelic acid trip freak out hands in the air mixed with the head thrashing of a youth at an early Mr Bungle gig during Love is a Fist. A totally fun version of no fucks given.
The room soon filled up quickly with standing punters hemmed in behind those who were seated on the step down to the dancefloor, leaving that seemingly obligatory awkward space in front of the band empty. The singer / guitarist / rambunctious dancer was having none of this rubbish and dethroned from the stage to literally drag people to the front and remind them of the crime it is to not have a good time. I feel like shaking people myself at gigs, so a big thumbs up from me!
Ouch My Face has been on my list of ‘bands to see’. I stumbled upon them after cyber stalking High Tension and Young & The Restless a few months back and was pleasantly surprised to find that visual artist Celeste Potter was in this Ouch! My relationship with Celeste’s work to date had been purely through the medium of her visual arts. Her album covers for Jen Cloher, Courtney Barnett, Milk! Records and Dz Deathrays; her tote bags, t-shirts and prints. It was great to put a musical creative force to the visual imagery I’ve seen so much of recently.
Ouch are a powerhouse trio of broken syllables and deliberate stutters. The lyrics are spat and screamed over jarringly angular and searing guitars. These guys have a hard assed edge when playing which switches into quite sweet and humble banter between songs. And Ben Ely; it was great to see him snarling his lip on the bass. These guys have a new album out soon, the first in four years.
The three women of Shonen Knife bounced onstage in matching blue sparks holding their own band scarves (which kind of looked like beer mats) uniformly over their heads. Big smiles announcing their presence to a heaving room of excited applause. They jumped straight into Konnichiwa (welcome to our show) with synchronised old school rock moves and much banging of hair. Bassist Ritsuko Taneda is rocking her super long hair with a big fringe and it spends a lot of time bouncing from the back to the front of her head. Drummer Emi Morimoto has a short bob, black leather drumming gloves and pounds her kit with a huge smile and all the classic drummer moves. Naoko Yamano is the only original member and is rocking shoulder length hair and the guitar plus main vocal duties. “We’re glad to be back in Melbourne Rock City!”. The hair and outfits made them totally look like a collectable set of Japanese surf pop punk dolls.
After a few songs from their 2012 album Pop Tune, Naoko informs us the next set are all tracks off the new album which is inspired by (insert devil horns in the air here) “70s British Hard Rock!”; Bad Luck Song (channelled Thin Lizzy), Meow Meow, Ramen Rock (Ritsuko’s favourite food), Green Tea (sung by the drummer), the 70’s cock shlock rock sounds came thick and fast.
The final set of songs included all the ‘90s faves that are imperative at a Knife gig. Banana Chips, ESP, I Am A Cat, It’s A Wow and Outer Space on A Rocket Ship; amazing.
They returned to the stage dressed in matching black Shonen Knife Overdrive t-shirts and launched into The Carpenters classic ‘Top of The World’ which had been recorded for the all-star ‘90s tribute compilation to Karen and cast which also featured Babes in Toyland, Beck, Sonic Youth et al.
An amazing and uplifting gig indeed! Best quote of the night:
“I can’t tell whether it’s the speed or the fact I can’t stop smiling, but my face hurts so much right now”.
PS. The merchandise FLEW out the door and Shonen Knife were there to sign it!