By Aaron Thompson For 20 years, Japan's Melt-Banana has been one of those overseas acts that is nearly impossible to accurately label. With a scant discography, given their tenure, but an influential footprint on everything from grindcore and power violence to math rock, noise, and even space rock, Melt-Banana's secret to success is never more apparent than when seeing them in concert.
That secret: Pretty much doing whatever the fuck they want.
But for a diverse crowd of nearly 200, the audio anarchists Melt-Banana may be the perfect band. From singer Yasuko Onuki's almost fairy-like majesty over the crowd at Last Exit Live, they certainly know it.
Posing in photos with fans demanding a moment of her majesty, Onuki's overt friendliness transformed into a sheer domineering, yet oddly-cute force upon stage. Combined with the tyrannical guitar styling of Ichirou Agata, Melt-Banana spent around 50 minutes decimating the crowd with everything from almost J-pop-styled crescendos to an exceptionally short flurry of early tracks showing their cred that they can still shred power violence like they used to back in the early '90s.
If anything, the theme of influential bands permeated even through the openers for Melt-Banana. Local old school punks The Father Figures opened the evening with a delightful yet seemingly out-of-place punky set eminiscent of early second wave punk.
Of note, guitarist and former JFA bassist Michael Cornelius' seeming fusion of early Dead Kennedys-style guitars mixed with hints of prog rock guitar noodling were a major standout for the locals.
Second, San Diego grindcore freaks Retox abused the crowd with a blitzkrieg-paced yet glacially received set of pure grindy powerviolence. But even his grindcore-y David Byrne-like fortitude and electricity as a frontman -- not to mention the on-stage danger of auto-erotic asphyxiation as Justin Pearson hung his microphone cable around his neck for nearly the whole set -- the audience reaction was eerily subdued in the face of Retox's sheer sonic Armageddon.
But the tidal wave of lethargy receded the minute Melt Banana took stage.
In a hyperactive dose of hits spanning their 20-year career, Onuki and Agata's tight musicianship and almost seamless transitioning from song to song, despite overt changes in styles from more hardcore-tinged songs to floating galactic hyper-space rock odysseys kept the pace fast and the crowd chaotic.
Crowd-surfers and mosh-pitters dominated the small bar's standing area desperately trying to get Onuki to join them, to no avail. Guitarist Agata's relentless thousand-finger guitar licks gave more sonically than the audience may have deserved.
Yet it is Onuki's limitless on stage energy may as well cement her place as one of the most enigmatic female rock artists globally.
Closing the night with an eight-minute heavy space-rock jam-out led solely by Agata -- and almost completely throwing aside the band's more aggressive fabric for that of an experimental space rocky noise band -- was a striking display of the band's confidence. After more than 20 years, Melt-Banana is totally better than your band, and they know it. And we are better off because of it.
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