with Michael Shelly
Bowery Ballroom, New York City • August 25, 1998
David Lee Beowülf
What a great way to spend a very hot Tuesday night in NYC — with legendary (dude, it’s more than fifteen years!) Osaka, Japan women punk rockers, Shonen Knife! Supporting their latest album, Happy Hour, the delightful punk threesome put on a great show, making everyone happy happy, joy joy.
The girls went on at 10:30; prompted by the techno-Knife song “Shonen Knife Planet” they walked out on the darkened stage and on go the lights! It’s Naoko, Michie and Atsuko all wearing new costumes (designed by Atsuko herself) that were full of big bell-bottoms and stars. Naoko even had a matching magenta hat covered with golden stars. With little more than a wave they went into “Konichiwa,” one of the most punk songs off Happy Hour. It’s got roaring guitars and comes off like a classic Ramones number. It was over quickly and Naoko and Michie bowed graciously and said many thank you’s. Naoko gave the “devil sign” with her right hand and said “thank you very much” again. She introduced the next song being about her favorite candy of late, “Banana Chips,” which was also from Happy Hour. Then they went into the oldies and played “Flying Jelly Attack,” another awesome punk song about candy. From there they played “Lazy Bone,” “Cookie Day,” “Fish Eyes,” “Riding on the Rocket,” and “Catch Your Bus.” A good set with the majority coming from Happy Hour.
Then a most amazing thing happened. Well, let’s briefly go to the beginning again. The band was introduced by a guy who looked an awful like Marky Ramone who said he was “Joey Ramone’s younger brother.” It turns out… It turns out that it was, in fact, Marky Ramone and he took over Atsuko’s drums (she played tambourine for this number) and joined in a great Shonen Knife rendition of “I Wanna Be Sedated.” I had no idea I’d be watching a historic punk rock moment! Far out! Then Naoko announced that they’d be gigging in Tokyo as the “Osaka Ramones” and would play ten Ramones songs. After Marky left the stage the girls looked visibly shaken. They’d just had a legend join them, in New York City, just a few blocks from CBGB’s where the Ramones first played!
The show continued, after they got over the excitement of playing with a genuine Ramone, with “Sushi Bar,” “Gyoza” and a cover of the Monkees’ “Daydream Believer” all of which are on Happy Hour and finished up with “Twist Barbie” (my personal favorite Shonen Knife song) and “One Week.”
Of course that wasn’t enough, so, at the crowd’s insistence, out came the girls and they played “Bear Up Bison” at the request of someone close to the stage (spontaneous request honoring is a rarity at any show; I’ve witnessed it happen twice previously: Prong in Melbourne and Murphy’s Law in Orlando), they followed up with “ESP.” The crowd still wasn’t satisfied, so they came out again and played “Kappa X,” in Japanese. And they promised to show up after the show in the downstairs bar to sign their new cookbook!
Journeyman power pop guitarist Michael Shelly and band opened the show with a witty forty-five minute performance. I’m most familiar with Mr. Shelly’s witty performance as a DJ on WFMU (http://www.wfmu.org) and I did not know of his long career as a journeyman pop star. He and his band had just returned from Canada, where, he explained, they’d been mildly hassled by customs. Apparently, since they were nice, the hassles were mild. According to Mr. Shelly, Regis Philbin was not nice and was un-mildly hassled. I’m only slightly familiar with Michael Shelly’s work with Cheeky Monkey and their latest album Four Arms to Hold You. It’s happy and silly and so was this performance.