Shonen Knife – Whammy! October 5, 2017

Osaka punk trio Shonen Knife thrilled everyone with an energetic reminder of the basics of rock music in a hot packed Whammy Bar last night.

The night kicked off with support from Auckland classic rock band The Dirty Sweets. Their playing was solid, tight, and evidently crowd-pleasing judging by the jostling front rows, though I found their music a little too derivative of 80’s stadium rock’n’roll to stand up on its own merits.

Shonen Knife took the stage a little after 10:30, sporting matching sparkly silver costumes and mile-wide smiles as they bowed together to the audience before taking up their instruments and launching into an hour of energetic pop-friendly punk tunes. Of course, because of the matching costumes, matching pink instruments, choreographed dance moves and coordinated hand-in-the-air stage poses, to some people they were always going to be just a few harmonised “oh yeah”s away from being a gimmick. But their enthusiasm and absolute commitment to the music kept everyone steering clear of that deduction.

Their dedication to the solidity of their playing and to the art of engaging and entertaining an audience was wholesome and genuine, as was their joy at being here. The trio (guitarist and vocalist Naoko Yamano, bassist and backing vocalist Atsuko Yamano and drummer Risa Kawano) were all smiles for the hour and fifteen minutes they spent on stage, showering the audience in constant thanks between songs. Drummer Kawano, who joined the two original members in the group in 2015, never broke her grinning eye contact with the audience while tearing through relentlessly energetic punk beats with unwavering solidity (even when standing at the kit or when taking lead vocals on two tracks). Add in Atsuko Yamano’s driving basslines and what you got was a formidable rhythm section.

The middle section of their set revolved around a repeating culinary theme, as the group, now well into the fourth decade of their career, tore through slice after slice of bouncy humour-infused punk cuts such as All You Can Eat, Wasabi, Ramen Rock, BBQ Party and the brilliantly singable Sushi Bar Song. The coordinated hair-whipping and fist-raising of the two sisters and original members at the front of the stage added in the carefully controlled performance element of 60’s female vocal pop groups to the usually unruly and spontaneous punk genre. The influence of pre-punk pop music could also be heard in their sweet vocal harmonies.

Complaints of sameness between songs and requests for more sonic variation seem misplaced when discussing a modern punk band that wears their influences so openly (namely The Ramones and 60’s Girl Groups), and derives such a specific sound from them. Each song is played fast and straight with driving drums, crunchy barred guitar chords, a prominent chugging bassline and a simple vocal hook. However it’s rare that a group dedicates themselves so completely and with such absolute immersion to a specific set of properties for the entirety of their performance, and on this premise Shonen Knife shine.

After an hour long set they returned to the stage for a cover of The Monkees’ Day Dream Believer and a final scalding original, Antonio Baka Guy, a jam of two halves that kept springing back to life unexpectedly after countless false endings. Not that anyone was complaining, the crowd at this point jostling with kinetic energy.

Shonen Knife may cater to a very specific taste, but within those parameters they deliver their music with everything they have. It was refreshing to see a band clearly having the time of their lives playing, whose enthusiasm on stage was matched only by the energy of their music.

Ruben Mita

Click on any image to view a photo gallery by Michael Jeong:


Shonen Knife Setlist:

Pop Tune

Banana Chips

Twist Barbie

Jump into the New World

Rock’ n’ roll T-shirt

Green Tangerine (sung by drummer)

All you can eat

Ramen Rock

Sushi Bar Song

Wasabi (sung by bassist)

Loop di Loop (sung by drummer)

BBQ Party

Bad Luck Song

Whatever (sung by bassist)


Riding on the Rocket

Cobra vs Mongoose


Day Dream Believer (The Monkees cover)

Antonio Baka Guy