REVIEW: MELT – BANANA
Reviewed by: Anurag (error)
Date: Jun 28, 2007
Bands: MELT-BANANA, opened for by THE SHOW IS THE RAINBOW
Venue: Sokol Underground, Omaha, Nebraska
I don’t usually go to concerts. Not because I don’t enjoy them. I’m just always too busy or I forget or I just feel like I can’t be bothered (they also call this lazy) being pushed and shoved and maybe kicked a few times just to see the band a few miles away, jumping up and down like fleas, the view intermittently blocked by the back of the head of the asshole in front of me. So it’s safe to say that I have never really been to a show in a long time. And at least not in the US. Not to any good shows anyway. After the profound experience that came from watching a Jackyl show one year (they had an amazing song called “She Loves My Cock.” The whole band would sing the chorus.) I thought things would stay that way for a while until the day when, like the people that go to Scorpions concerts today, bald and half-blind, I would finally make my way to see whichever of my favorite bands would have managed to sell out long enough to accompany me to old age. Probably THE ROLLING STONES, who are going to outlive everybody, until another species of animal inherits the Earth. Not that I’m into the Rolling Stones THAT much, for the record.
So by the time I get to the MELT-BANANA show in Omaha, Nebraska on Jun 28 of 2007, it is safe to say I am a little excited. MELT-BANANA is a Japanese band who plays a brand of music that has been labeled many things, my favorite of which has been spazcore. They play a very hyperactive blend of crazed out punk and thrash that is very abrasive and loud and can also sound like a speeded up CD at times. The guitars are explosively sharp and usually played through a whammy pedal, a mindblowing frenzy of riffs played so quickly you barely have time to catch them and run through such a series of effects that when guitarist Agata starts hammering on his guitar with his slide, he puts Tom Morello to shame. But to compare Tom Morello to Agata Ichirou is irrelevant for whereas Tom Morello is a stuctured outburst of noise, Agata is pure chaos. Bassist Rika holds down the rhythm section with whichever drummer dares to stick with the band at the moment. MELT-BANANA’s rhythms are punctuated with a drum section that thumps and rolls at such a frantic pace that it resembles a schizophrenic on the loose, murdering and pillaging, held in control by Rika’s thundering basslines. All of this high speed thrash is conducted by Yasuko O. (also known as Yako) and her singing, which could very well be the most controversial voice in rock and roll since Billy Corgan said “The world is a vampire”. Yako’s singing defies description, if it can even be called singing. The lyrics are not important, or not important in the sense that a MELT-BANANA song is not meant to be sung along to. Yako delivers her words in short and very sharp series of yelps which has progressed into moments of actual singing in later albums, but still retain the mind-blowing quality of a CD that has somehow gone haywire. Her voice is meant to be viewed as a musical instrument, a percussion item, if you will, where the sound the instrument produces is more important than the conventions it is meant to follow. For many listeners, Yako’s vocals will be the deciding factor in their dislike or appreciation of the band. Keep in mind however, that if you feel that Yako’s vocals are not suited to the band, you are completely missing the point of MELT-BANANA.
We arrive at the Sokol Underground in Omaha about half an hour before the show. Myself, my wife Jessy, her ex-boyfriend Todd and my friend Gavin. A twelve pack is rolling around quite nicely in my head and the one hotdog I’ve eaten in two days is making me feel a little strange. There are very few people there and no one looks like they have heard of MELT-BANANA. What does someone who has heard of MELT-BANANA look like, you ask? Well, a little like me at that point, dilated pupils, huge dumbass grin and also half-drunk. We clear the entrance where no one checks us for cameras or drugs or a bazooka. I mentally kick myself for not bringing a camera like the guy whose pictures I am ripping off in this review. As soon as we’re in, Gavin disappears for a minute and reappears with beers which are downed with much gusto. I buy a MELT-BANANA t-shirt which I put on. We are watching three men set up the stage. It appears that they are soundtesting. There is one guy on a synthesizer, a guy on a drumset that includes, of all things, butter containers held together with electrician’s tape and another guy on a microphone run through a series of analog effects (hell yeah!). They soundtest with a series of ambient sounds while the drummer bashes out very surreal sounding drum rolls. Gavin and I are standing in front of them wondering if these aren’t the coolest soundcheck guys in the world when the three guys stand up and introduce themselves as LWA an unbilled ambient noise band that has actually opened up the show. Before I know it, the beers have been refreshed, we are standing in front of the stage and THE SHOW IS THE RAINBOW is about to perform.
[LWA setting up. Check out the drums]
It is at this point that I begin to slam back the beers I am holding. It is also at this point that I begin to black out.
THE SHOW IS THE RAINBOW is a band that hails from Lincoln, Nebraska. The brainchild of frontman Darren Keen, THE SHOW IS THE RAINBOW used to be an actual band but now tours as a solo outfit, with Darren Keen singing along to his songs through a laptop and his trademark style of having a projector screen behind him that shows imagery relative to the songs he is performing. I actually like The Show Is the Rainbow, whose music is a combination of tripped out techno backed by Darren Keen’s jacked up, ferocious rap which targets the ideals of mainstream music, the problems an unattractive and unsociable musician can face even in the supposedly all-inclusive independent music world and the mainstream-indie (yes it is possible) bands of Omaha’s famous Saddle Creek scene, most notably the band Bright Eyes, which has even gone so far as to call Keen a “big fat idiot” because of his refusal to conform to the status quo of the normal indie band – good-looking, watered down rock and good-looking. So while I do enjoy Keen’s music, there is no telling for why I am about to act the way that I am. Perhaps it’s the fact that I read that Keen has a penchant for attacking audience members during shows (not cool if your audience is there to see MELT-BANANA and not you), perhaps it is the fact that this is the first “real” show that I have been to, for a band that pretty much revived my interest in music since sukya_paat (a ktmROCKS forum member) forwarded me a link for a MELT-BANANA album, or perhaps it is the fact that I am
fucking drunk off my ass. But what follows defies logic.
As Darren Keen is setting up, I shout out to him.
“Darren!” I shout.
Darren plugs in a cord into his laptop.
“Darren!” I shout again. People are looking at me now.
And so is Darren Keen.
I smile at Darren and flash him a thumbs up. Darren smiles back. Then I open my mouth.
“You suck!” I say.
Darren stops smiling.
A few more beers are downed. There are now a few beer bottles at the front of the stage where Gavin and I are standing. By the time Darren takes the stage, there is a pile.
Darren Keen has a very unusual performing style, very reminiscent of cabaret jazz. Darren talks to the audience, asks them questions, asks them to respond. Periodically, he jumps off the stage and runs through the audience. It sounds like a lot of fun. But it can be trying when you are there to see someone play music and they keep jumping off the stage and ramming into you. As Darren rips through songs from both his Radboyz Only!!! and Gymnasia albums, the room has begun to fill up and people are starting to groove. Gavin and I are cheering after every song and every time I finish a beer, I find another cold one in my hand, begging to be drunk. Darren Keen runs by Gavin and me and we both push him.
Darren Keen plays an explosive version of “Safe Art”, a very hilarious and brilliantly honest song about Darren Keen’s stance on indie bands and “Bright Eyes” in particular. Various clips of bloody walls, surreal art and the words “FAT FUCK” play across the projector screen. Darren jumps back on the stage, sweating, about to jump into the next song, when I open my mouth again.
“Darren! Play Safe Art!” I shout.
The whole room falls silent.
“Are you serious?” Darren asks me. “I just played that song, man. I JUST played Safe Art.” Darren is looking at me like he wants to kill me.
Did I mention that Darren looks quite a bit like Michael Moore?
Darren finishes out his set to a hearty round of applause, me included. Darren Keen is an awesome songwriter and showman, and his ethics more than make up for the disappointment of watching a guy sing to a laptop. There is a little bit of confusion when someone steps on Darren’s microphone cable as he is running through the crowd, causing a few minutes of confusing silence. No one knows who it is, but when that person is found, punishment will be served.
[Darren Keen of The Show Is the Rainbow on the right]
The lights go out. Beers are refreshed, the pile at the front of the stage grows larger. People with black hair begin setting up instruments. I look at each one of them and notice Rika, the unnamed drummer (who turns out to be: SURPRISE! the guy I bought the t-shirt from) and Agata. I think about telling Agata I love him and decide to wait. Then I see Yako and another beer is gone.
“Yako!” I shout.
Yako does not look at me.
“Yako!” I shout again. She still does not look. Maybe she talked to Darren backstage…
Then Gavin steps in and leans over to talk to Yako and the next thing I know, I am on stage, Yako is next to me, we’re both making the evil-eye at my crappy cell-phone camera and Gavin has snapped a picture. I am ecstatic. So ecstatic I notion over to my wife to supply us with a fresh set of beers. While I stare at the stage glassy-eyed, Rika walks out, puts on her bass, and the opening bass riff to “Shield For Your Eyes, A Beast In the Well On Your Hand” begins rolling out and all hell breaks loose.
[MELT-BANANA blows us away. See if you can find my Mexican face in those pictures]
For the record, “Shield For Your Eyes…” is one
hell of a
holy hell of a
holy fucking hell of a
show opener. I’ve included a link to the song at the bottom of this review. “Shield For Your Eyes…” opens up mid tempo with an addictive bassline that adds the remaining instruments to it, building up to amazing tension, before it explodes into all-out thrash with the entry of Yako’s vocals. The entire crowd starts moving. A girl next to me screams “Oh my god!” as the song speeds up. I am headbanging left and right, the word gravity only a myth. The music is gloriously loud and I mean LOUD. A few people actually move back and the rest of us laugh at them. Yako’s yelps, Agata’s screaming guitar, Rika’s teeth-jarring bassline and the unnamed guy’s thrashed out drums have all been mixed perfectly, adding to the notion that MELT-BANANA is a band meant to be viewed in a small venue (check Tool chatboards for what happens when they aren’t and also for what happens when a bunch of dumb rednecks in Disturbed t-shirts watch the best live band in the world in their podunk redneck towns). As MELT-BANANA rips through songs from Cell-Scape, Teeny Shiny, Charlie and their latest: Bambi’s Dilemma, Gavin and I start shoving each other, building up a mosh pit that will eventually consume the entire room. I down another beer and start crowdsurfing. Crowdsurfing feels like getting a massage by fifty different people at the same time. I’m dropped every once in a while. At one point, when I am dropped, I just lay there, my head spinning, soaking in the sounds of “Heiwaboke Crisis”. It is at this point that I must commend the general niceness and absolute positivity that MELT-BANANA’s attitude and music seems to impart upon audience members. Each time I hit the floor and lay there, there are people, actual cheeseburger-guzzling, Iraq-invading, white Americans picking me up, patting me on the back and asking me if I am ok. I hug at least five people in the audience. At one point, while MELT-BANANA pounds out “Circle-Jerk (Chase the Magic Words, Lego Lego)” I have my arms around two women I have never met before and we are all headbanging together. I break a beer bottle and other people help clean it up, but not before I have completely lacerated my right hand, spitting blood all over myself and other people http://www.myspace.com/meltbanana123 pays testament to this). I scream “Agata”, “Rika” or “Yako” after each song and people join me. Then I crowdsurf, hit the floor, jump up, hug some people and the cycle continues. Pure energy. Pure chaos. Pure noise. Pure fucking MELT-BANANA.
[Yako freaks out. There I am again!]
The band even honors my requests for a few of my favorites, including “Ether Twisted”, “Excess” and even “Giggle on the Stretcher” before their set closes. The crowd looks demolished. We are all sweaty, sore, full of alcohol/whatever drugs we may have ingested in the privacy of our own homes but we still want more. And thank god. For MELT-BANANA walks out on stage for an encore.
After the show, people hang about, asking for autographs, chatting with the band. Most people address them from the floor. I jump on stage and hug them all. Rika looks slightly startled, but nothing more at this point. I tell the band that I am a huge fan of their music. I think I try to explain the whole tired-of-music-until-I-got-sukyaa’s-link story to them but what I say and what they understand may be two different things. I shake hands with all of them and walk back to my wife, whom I have not seen since the start of MELT-BANANA. My wife is ecstatic too, claiming that she was wrong to dislike the band and that that was the best show that she has ever seen (coming from her that is a HUGE compliment as her concert scrapbook is fatter than Santosh Pant’s head). We are about to leave when Gavin tells us he got into the backstage area.
[Rika greeting members of the audience. And are you fucking kidding me? It's me again.]
Cut to backstage. Agata has a set of guitars unlike I have ever seen. That he left all those guitars unattended “backstage”, which at the Sokol Underground means a crappy ass enclosure behind the stage that ANYONE (and I mean anyone, even Sabin Rai) can gain access to without being noticed, is testament to MELT-BANANA’s generally positive attitude and sweet naiveté. People are getting their albums and t-shirts signed. Gavin and I have nothing. We tack our brains and come up with the perfect idea. The next thing we know, Yako has signed our chests, laughing with us, even though she must have been tired enough to just pass out on the moldy couch that the Sokol likes to offer its performing artists. I tell the band that I love them again before we head out.
Or do we.
For once again, after we are all seated in the car, listening to MELT-BANANA, I have disappeared back into the Sokol. My wife follows me inside to see me, once again, hugging the band and telling them that I love them. Agata is the coolest person in the world, in between the chaos of reoccurring musical accessories he just laughs and complies. Yako looks worried and my wife has to actually explain to her that I am
2. easily excitable
3. a huge MELT-BANANA fan
She brings back the comment that Yako is one of the coolest people she has ever met. Only Rika looks slightly bothered for which I don’t blame her. Rika plays the bass much like Krist Novoselic of NIRVANA did. With completely unadulterated fury. I bow to the band a few times, saying “Arigato” and once again, MELT-BANANA’s awesomely resilient attitude has cowed me. Not a word of reproach or frustration. The band humored me with such reverence that to this day I am in awe. How many of these mainstream assholes that we accept as “legends” without thought would have put up with such behavior? If you read this MELT-BANANA, the crazy guy from Omaha says thank you, sorry and I really hope you come back to Omaha. You made an insurmountable number of fans that day and I promise I’ll be more sober.
Life went back to its boring routine after that. I couldn’t move my neck for a week after and my fingers took some time to heal but the cathartic effect of the show was too genuinely awesome to refute. Seeing MELT-BANANA live was one of the best experiences of my life and I fully recommend anyone that gets the chance to go see them live. You will not fucking regret it. And if you do, register for an account at the ktmROCKS forum if you don’t have one already and come have a talk with me.
One last thing though, remember how I told you that some asshole, some blindingly drunk and belligerent asshole stepped on Darren Keen’s microphone cord during his set, causing him to lose signal for a few moments? Well check this out:
Now THAT ladies and gentlemen, is why you should get so ditheringly wasted AFTER the show, otherwise there will be no rainbow.
Thank you for your patience.