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Shonen Knife/Smallgang (live at Dingwall’s)

Shonen Knife live at Dingwall's May 2014 (Picture: Elaine Kingett)London
18 May 2014

So the economy’s screwed, the world’s still on the brink of war, and far, far more of the people you admire are dead than alive, while everywhere you look there are more racists, fuckheads and idiots than it would be practical to Freepost shitty bricks to. And, as if all that wasn’t bad enough, the bastards have gone and cancelled Community. But you know what? I don’t give a shit. Because Shonen Knife are in town, and that’s all the reasons to be cheerful all at once. Take that, Ian Dury!

The vibe’s good at Dingwall’s as Smallgang blast out their demented take on psychedelic surf-punk. As they finish I’m reminded of a less grumpy Jesus And Mary Chain, only faster. Not really much like Jesus And Mary Chain at all, truth be told, but there’s a similar feel to their punk-pop riot. And then it’s time for the Osaka Ramones, Shonen Knife, who take the stage bearing their ultra-cute towel banners, with a new design this time which reflects the jagginess of the Overdrive album cover, all blacks, reds and spikes. Then it’s straight into “Banana Chips” and joy becomes unconfined.Shonen Knife live at Dingwall's May 2014 (Picture: Elaine Kingett)

For me, most music’s all about the intensity. And that brings with it certain expectations – it must be painful, or scary, or sad – which are all bollocks. Shonen Knife live prove that intensity can also come with a smile. You can be just as authentic – if not more so – when you’re singing about chocolate biscuits, or having a nice walk, or, more often, cats. Indeed, tonight we get a feline double-whammy of “I Am A Cat” and “Like A Cat,” though no” Giant Kitty ” (although I once saw them do an entire encore of cat songs). They’re like the band the internet would invent, were it not for the fact that it didn’t have to; especially given that Shonen Knife have been a thing for over three decades. Which puts them before the ZX Spectrum, and roughly contemporaneous with Frogger and Donkey Kong. Despite having been doing this for such an utterly bastard long time, Naoko still seems overjoyed to be doing it.

Shonen Knife live at Dingwall's May 2014 (Picture: Elaine Kingett)As do they all – bassist Ritsuko throws all the rock shapes you could want, and plenty of devil horns, and Emi manages to thrash the drums like a monster without ever losing the smile and succumbing to Drummer Face (you know EXACTLY the face I mean. And she doesn’t do it once). Except when she’s briefly (and rather marvellously) replaced by original drummer Atsuko who, we’re informed, hasn’t played with them for fifteen years. And yeah, I was a little shocked to realise that 1999 was fifteen years ago, too.

They eschew the more mellow side of their output tonight in favour of the faster, harder and more moshpit-friendly numbers. It’s easy when listening to their recorded output to get lulled into a false sense of security by the happiness and day-to-day dreaminess of it all, and thus forget that they are, first and foremost, a kick-ass punk band. Or, more precisely, they’re the essence of ’50s rock and roll as it would be played by ’70s (or very early ’80s) punks. Or, less precisely, like Guitar Wolf would be if they were a ’60s girl group. So BASICALLY, for the last three decades they’ve been creating a wonderful mashup of the previous three. Which is all kinds of ace when you think about it.

Shonen Knife live at Dingwall's May 2014 (Picture: Elaine Kingett)Obviously the Ramones are a key reference point, but at times you could close your eyes and imagine you were hearing a higher-pitched Black Flag or Bad Religion, only a Black Flag or Bad Religion who weren’t anywhere near as cross, and were on the whole quite happy with stuff and content to have fun. And they ARE having fun. As the front of the crowd dissolves into a flailing mass of limbs and grins, it’s hard to tell whose enthusiasm’s more infectious. Either way, the resulting feedback loop of concentrated HAPPY leaves everyone with a huge shit-eating grin as we all file out into a lovely summer evening.

And you know what? Right now, the world doesn’t seem like such a shit place to be.

Words: -Justin Farrington-
Pictures: -Elaine Kingett-

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