There were a great deal of shows to visit this All Hallows’ Eve’s Eve, ranging from electronica in arenas to punk rock in bars; despite the drastic number of shows involving bands that I’d seen on one-to-a-few occasions, it was Melt-Banana that I ended up seeing. It seemed rather appropriate; on the eve of the holiday most responsible for darkness, chaos and the warding off of evil spirits, what better occasion to see a trio of Japanese noise-punk musicians with their own sets of sonic banshee howls and thundering rhythms? Being an avid fan of experimental music and Japanese power noise, I had a feeling that this was going to be a rather exciting show; I was not prepared, however, for how wild it got inside.
I’m of the mind that the bands that open for a headliner should, in some way, shape or form, relate to the main act, so as to draw appeal from the crowd of people who are coming just to see the headliner. San Francisco natives We Be The Echo, while not drenched in hissing static or any vocals to speak of, played an impressive set that ranged from complex, dueling math-rock to classically-influenced thrash metal, and everything in between. It was somewhat amusing to see the crowd try and follow the asynchronous beats of their songs, while the band played with utmost precision and unerring concentration (the drummer shook his hands free of aches after nearly every song).
Hailing from San Diego was All Leather, who started to delve further towards Melt-Banana territory with a furious blast of synth-drumming, alien-shrieking guitar noises, and singer Justin Pearson gyrating and howling through his own set of effects boxes. All Leather’s sound is very reminiscent of now-defunct electropunks Atari Teenage Riot, although there was a lot more noise and static than ATR would probably be using.
Having had the house and stage lights up for most of the evening, it was certainly a wake-up call to the audience when the club was plunged into darkness, and Melt-Banana emerged onstage, each member wearing and/or carrying a bright white flashlight. For the first six or seven songs, these served as the only source of light onstage; guitarist/effects guru Ichirou Agata ran back and forth across the stage waving both of his lights in the crowd’s face while singer Yasuko Oniki belted out shrill, rapid-fire, high-pitched rants into the mic and pounded down on her own effects pedal.
This, I later discovered, was actually supposed to be seen as a different performance, and somewhat of a different band, entirely; their tour is being advertised as “MELT-BANANA with MELT-BANANA Lite”, and this form of the band (which did not include bassist Rika Hamamoto) is drastically different from the 4-piece assault that normally makes up a Melt-Banana performance.
Most of the crowd, no doubt being used to Melt-Banana as “a punk band that plays noise” as opposed to “a noise band that plays punk”, seemed unsure how to respond to this new incarnation of the group — most standing in place or simply bobbing back and forth to the rhythm — until about the seventh or eighth “song” (I am sure, given the setlist, that a lot of these pieces blended together). At this point, their bass player joined the band and began plucking out a steady rhythm as the lights faded into being; the moment that the next song began, with a crash of the cymbals from their new drummer (unnamed as of this writing, I can’t recall what Oniki said his name was and I am unable to find the information online), it seemed that the crowd were reminded of the energy level of the band they were watching, and promptly went berserk.
I found myself being knocked violently against the stage by a colorful assortment of costumed audience members, including The Cookie Monster, three girls in banana suits, an oversized hot dog, and a bunch of punk kids that probably started the whole thing. The band onstage only seemed to draw more energy from their crowd’s reaction; Melt-Banana plays their songs at an absolutely feverish speed, with the pieces ranging from barely under a minute to several long minutes of back-and-forth tempo changes.
The entire time, the air was alive with Oniki’s frenetic wailing and Agata’s otherwordly, sonic-buzzsaw guitartronics, as they plowed through the 25+ songs of their set. The only thing that was short about the set was the encore; only two songs were played (“Circlejack” and “A Hunter In The Rain To Cut The Neck Up In The Present Stage”), but the fury that the band had kept with them didn’t dwindle in the slightest.
In this great long year of shows, I have to say that I was extremely impressed by Melt-Banana’s astonishingly unrelenting stage presence. There are plenty of punk, noise and metal bands who are usually at 50% energy by about the 5th song of their 14-song set, whereas tonight’s Tokyo trio kept things turned up to 12 and only paused to express their excitement of finally touring the USA again (this was, apparently, the second show on their itinerary). It’s unfortunate that there are not more bands that are able to pack that much dynamite into their performances; this was, indeed, another one of those shows where I was only remotely familiar with the band and their material, but still came out rather blown away by the end of the auditory assault that I had just witnessed.
The Melt-Banana setlist, in English:
All photos by Jonathan Pirro.