The beaming entity that is Shonen Knife has been releasing music for longer than a good portion of tonight’s Whelans audience has been alive. Formed in 1981, Osaka’s finest are purveyors of power pop, championed by Kurt Cobain and Sonic Youth, returning to Ireland on the back of their latest Long Player ‘Pop Tune’. Londoners Smallgang kick things off in front of the small but ever-increasing crowd that begins to take shape. Led by brothers Simon and Toshi Kobayashi, their music references a host of British bands – Wire and The Smiths most overtly from tonight’s selection. It’s the band’s first Dublin appearance with the guitarist informing us that they’re nervous, and it shows. It’s a stiff performance despite the warm reception. A tom-led Hibernation recalls a less energetic Bow Wow Wow and the band seem to hit their stride late in the set, settling into the room and becoming that bit more animated. It’s not bad, but it’s not great, and it feels like an odd choice of act to lead us into the main event.
The Ramones – who else – blast out from the speakers before the lights go down and Shonen Knife emerge to Welcome To Your Rock Club, SK scarves held aloft. So begins one of the most fun gigs this reviewer has had the pleasure of attending. Opener Konnichiwa sees mainstay Naoko Yamano on guitar and bassist Ritsuko Taneda throw out their synchronised axe wielding and headbanging, an assault of smiles and flailing locks. Taneda stalks, twirls and hops all over the stage for the duration of the gig, whipping her barnet all over the place and frequently disappearing behind a curtain of black hair.
The songs – short, catchy blasts of Ramones and Buzzcocks style belters – are dispatched with minimum messing about between numbers. New song Pop Tune is a slice of perfection, and for as long as the band are in our company they look like they don’t want to be anywhere else on earth. They could do this in their sleep of course, but it matters not. The smiles and the energy are infectious, and they have us in the palm of their hand before it’s time for a chat and Yamano introduces the band. “I think Irish beer is the best. I like Guinness!” shouts Taneda to the expected response. “I also like Guinness!” adds Yamano, not to be outdone. More comedy ensues when drummer Emi Morimoto introduces and sings a song about her “private life” to pantomime-style ‘ooooooooo’s’ from the audience.
Rapport firmly cemented, they lash back into the songs with vocal duties switching from drummer to bassist and back to Yamano. New track Sunshine bounces along nicely, and a punky Rubber Band with it’s shoutalong hook gets everyone moving. It also comes with advice for eating crisps, rocking and helpful. BBQ Party erupts into a doubletime stomp and during lost guitar saga Do You Happen To Know Morimoto is almost bouncing off the walls, barely able to stay on her drumstool. And nor does she, standing on it for the feedback breakdown of Cobra Versus Mongoose while the other two showboat, kinetic visions in pink and black tearing around that sparkling punk guitar of Yamano.
The scarves go up once more and they’re off, before the thunder of stamping feet brings them back for the encore. They are happy to take requests and end up closing with The Carpenter’s Top Of The World. It’s as if the crowd has just copped on that they should have been dancing like this all night and this really is the last chance, so it’s a celebratory finish. For the final time the scarves are brandished and the band make for the merch stand to be duly mobbed. With three chords and a healthy obsession with The Ramones, Shonen Knife carved a smile onto every face in Whelan’s. Why can’t every Saturday night start like this?
Shonen Knife Photo Gallery
Photos: Yan Bourke