Review: Shonen Knife @ Vinnies Dive Bar (Gold Coast)

Shonen Knife played Vinnies Dive Bar (Gold Coast) on 21 February, 2024 - image © Bill Prendergast
Bill has a love of music (especially Australian), surf, photography, food and family. Favourite countries: Australia, Japan, Italy (in that order!). Favourite music genres: open to everything!

Last night saw the return of Japan's infamous Shonen Knife (translates into Boy-Knife) to the Gold Coast on their 'Our Best Place' tour.

The girls from Osaka have been around since the early to mid-1980s, having famously been 'discovered' by Kurt Cobain of Nirvana; if you want one possible insight into their music, I'd look to The Ramones as their inspiration.

The girls were asked to support Nirvana on a tour of Europe in 1993, being unaware at the time as to who Nirvana were. Clearly it was a moment where a door was opened wide, and importantly the group took full advantage having toured globally and throughout Japan ever since.

It's the third time I've seen the trio play in Australia, and I am a long time Japan-o-phile. Despite living in Japan, and enjoying the truly incredible Japanese music scene, I was not lucky enough to see them in their home country. Clearly then I have a predisposition to the music and style, but yet again they put on a great show at Vinnies Dive Bar (21 February).

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Shonen Knife - image © Bill Prendergast

Last time they toured in 2019 they played at Currumbin RSL, and speaking to some of the punters last night there was agreement that Vinnies was a much better venue for them.

What I took away from this gig, relative to 2009 when I saw them at the Annandale Hotel in Sydney, they have become far less heavy. YouTube provides a great recap of the concert I had seen around 15 years ago, and reiterates the band has become more pop-oriented, occasionally straying into heavier material.

At the Currumbin gig, my most vivid memory other than chatting to the girls post show as they mixed with the crowd was drummer Risa Kawano. She was exceptional then, and was again last night. Her playing is fantastic, but she has a massive smile on her face at all times! It was of course infectious.

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Shonen Knife - image © Bill Prendergast

The other two members of the trio are sisters Atsuko (bass) and Naoko Yamano (lead guitar), and vocals are shared by the girls. They sing about light-hearted matters and don't delve into the world's problems, but that's part of the escape.

Among their hits, many deal with food (especially sushi) and animals (although they did not play their earlier hit, 'Capybara'). Each of the girls spent time post show chatting airily with the crowd, talking about food, Australia, and surf.

Each of their songs is short, as with The Ramones, lasting barely a couple of minutes, so they're able to work through a good catalogue in the hour-plus set.

The set opened as usual, with the fast crowd-warmer 'Konnichiwa' and moved quickly into one of their other well-known earlier hits 'Banana Chips' (or Bana Chi as was written on the set list in Japanese).

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Shonen Knife - image © Bill Prendergast

Their song about wasabi soon followed, then they moved onto material from their 2023 album 'Our Best Place'. 'Nice Day', 'Afternoon Tea', and 'Vamos Taquitos' followed in quick succession, then the title track of their prior album 2019's 'Sweet Candy Power'.

'S.C.P' as it is otherwise known was a highlight for Risa's drumming; the piece started with Naoko's slowly strummed guitar, and built into a great piece from Risa as the song really ramped up.

'Jump Into The New World' was another chance for Risa to shine, standing up playing drums for much of the piece. The trio performed a magnificent bow to the crowd at the end of the set, as would be expected, then came back for two of their best-known songs to wind up.

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Shonen Knife - image © Bill Prendergast

'Sushi Bar' is a standard for their gigs, and again highlights that you go to see them for an escape, with the lyrics based around the theme 'I wanna go to a sushi bar, I wanna go with you'. The crowd loved it!

The girls then moved into another of their huge (and unusual) hits, a cover of 'Top Of The World' by The Carpenters from the early 1970s. An odd choice when they first covered it, but it has become a staple of their tours.

I love this band, and have always felt they were surprisingly well recognised outside of Japan relative to their domestic popularity. The girls were well supported by Brisbane local bands The Glycereens and Mungo Fungo.

The Glycereens opened the show fast and heavy, each of the four members wearing black and white striped shirts, presumably a tie-in to prison gear. They were great, singer Heli Puhakka (originally from Finland) playing a central role with vocals and rhythm guitar, and providing a visual target on the stage.

Although bass guitarist Ben Gorringe was an equal match playing his instrument in a range of highly unusual stances, and swinging the bass around wildly. When asked after the show, Heli denoted the band's style as garage if a label needs to be applied to them.

The Glycereens - image © Bill Prendergast

Ben Ely and the Mungo Fungo Band also put on a good set, far more melodic than the opening act, and in my mind therefore playing slightly more accessible music.

Styles ranged from very psychedelic (almost Doors-like), into surf music, and wound up with the self-titled track 'Mungo Fungo' and another psychedelic track 'Skull Candle'. These last two tracks they had done when supporting You Am I recently in Brisbane, and are a great introduction into their music.

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Mungo Fungo Band - image © Bill Prendergast

Overall a fantastic show, and presented the way this type of music should be, in a small local venue, and played very loud. Go see Shonen Knife with an open mind, even without intimate knowledge of their music – it was very accessible and thoroughly enjoyable!

More photos from the show.

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