Live Review plus Gallery: MONA FOMA Festival – Shonen Knife, Wednesday and Little Ugly Girls, MONA Lawns, 25.02.2024

Feature Photograph: Arun Kendall

The stunning run of shows at MONA FOMA continues with the Sunday line up of Michael Rother celebration of Neu!, Shonen Knife, Wednesday and Little Ugly Girls out on the bucolic lawns of the world famous MONA Museum in the outskirts of Hobart. We covered Michael Rother’s celebration of the legendary Neu! on his Australian tour (see review here) so we concentrated on the three supports, and they were a stunning combination of genres and generations.

First up in the twilight hours were a vintage Hobart band from the nineties (now based in Melbourne), Little Ugly Girls, who played a dynamic and fully expressed old school style of punk that positively thundered from the stage with a passionate uninhibited performance. In the dying light, age had not wearied anybody – on stage and in the audience, as the band’s firebrand explosive punk blasted from the stage born on some incredibly powerful drumming and throbbing bass. Despite many years together, they have only just released an album confirming my well used adage that creativity has no end date. It was terrific raw and very pure punk rock delivered with style and panache.

Hailing from North Carolina in the US, Wednesday have been garnering a lot of acclaim for their recent album ‘Rat Saw God’ and their performance – their first ever in Australia – was magnificent. While hard to define in terms of genre, they created a vibrant exciting sound that ranged from shoegaze, dream pop, alt country to a heavy metal thunder. Final song ‘Bull Believer’ from their new album was quite stunning, with Karly Hartzman, the songwriter/vocalist/guitarist delivering empowered, empassionated vocals that soared and whispered across an extraordinary range.

The lyrical style was very much in the vein of local Courtney Barnett – beautifully expressed vignettes on the vicissitudes of everyday life, delivered on a bed of steel guitars and an indie crunch. Redolent at times of Radiohead and Mazzy Star, at others of MBV or Slowdive, the stage presence was dynamic and committed, Hartzman an enigmatic figure while the band members exhibited effortless cool. The set covered a few tracks from ‘Rat Saw God’ while earlier album ‘Twin Plagues’ was revisited. A couple of new songs were thrown in the mix, including eviscerating reference to the US role in supplying arms that were used to bomb innocents in Gaza.

This was a very exciting performance from an accomplished young band on the cusp of great things. Catch them on the rest of their tour in Australia – tomorrow night at the Perth Festival, 29 February at the Factory in Sydney and at the Golden Plains Festival between 9-10 March.

On name alone, those unfamiliar with the band could be forgiven for thinking Shonen Knife were some sort of gothic doom merchants bent of decrying the misery of life. As the trio took to stage, the same people could also be forgiven for thinking they were in for a dose of kawaii J-pop. Of course the cognoscenti would know the reality: Shonen Knife are the proponents of a barbed wire full frontal attack of thunderous pop rock with glorious gilded layers of harmonies and smiles that would cheer the most miserable soul.

With a cheeky and fabulous cover of The Carpenters’ ‘Top of the World’ included, the band delivered a heart stopping joyous explosion of sound and vision that veritably popped. With riffs greater than kunyani/Mount Wellington in the distance, the band delivered a set that felt like a jolt of a defibrillator to the heart and left you with a rictus smile that last well after the gig finished.

Day-glo colours blinded the eyes, as did the radiance of the members dressed as they were in matching multi-coloured garments. The rock moves were all there – delivered with a sort of knowing self-deprecatory style – arms in the air, fingers pointing, shaking trusses and frozen poses redolent of Spinal Tap. They all added to a performance that shimmered and shone. Tracks like ‘Sweet Candy Power’, ‘Bad Luck Song’ and ‘Dancing in the New World’ created movement amongst the most dance averse members of the crowd (yes, dear reader, I confess to being one). Even a certain prominent figure who owned the whole place could be seen gyrating in glee.

The set list covered their entire career since the early eighties, including recent album ‘Our Best Place’ with tracks like ‘MUJINTO Rock’ and ‘The Story of Baumkuchen’ and while singer/guitarist Naoko Yamano has been the only consistent member since the beginning, they displayed a brilliant cohesion on stage. It really was the most exhilarating show and their on-stage luminescence was infectious.

Catch up with them around Australia – Melbourne next (tickets here)

Feature Photograph and Gallery: Arun Kendall

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