Words by DJ Hostettler
Melt-Banana claim to be from Tokyo, but I’ve long suspected that it’s a cover for their true identities as time-displaced creatures who sprung fully formed from the atomic blast at Hiroshima, ready to throw spastic blasts of hardcore noise-punk at anything that moved. How else can one explain such a frantic, inhuman-sounding band? It must be true—they were once normal human beings who were atomized and reconstituted as super-powered, fourth-dimensional beings, Dr. Manhattan-style.
If my theory is false, well, I leave it to you to explain their consistently radioactive live show, which skipped Milwaukee (boooo!) and dropped an H-bomb squarely on Madison’s High Noon Saloon on Wednesday night. An eager (but not sold out—WTF, Madison) throng gathered in front of the stage to watch the Wisconsin debut of “Melt-Banana Lite,” which essentially can be summarized as “Three members of Melt-Banana spazz out like Original Recipe Melt-Banana, only with samplers, Theremin and Korg Kaossilator instead of guitars.” Perhaps as a play on the “Lite” conceit, the band performed this set almost entirely in the dark, save for a few handheld mini-flashlights illuminating the stage. The “Lite” set actually included a number of M-B Classic numbers from their most recent full-length, Bambi’s Dilemma, including the goofy “Dog Song.”
After the three-piece did their thing, Rika Hamamoto grabbed her bass and the performance moved seamlessly into the opening bass riff of “Shield Your Eyes, a Beast in the Well of Your Hand” from 2003’s Cell-Scape. The bulk of the set pulled from these two most recent full-lengths (c’mon, guys, bring back some stuff from Charlie! Throw us a bone here!), but was classic Melt-Banana: vocalist Yasuko Onuki yipping and yelping over Agata’s interdimensional guitar riffs and effects while the drummer keeps his extraneous motions to a minimum, lest he fall over dead from exhaustion after keeping the band rolling at about 500 BPMs for an hour. When watching Agata play guitar, it’s hard to decide what’s more thrilling—focusing on his hands or his feet as he frantically stomps his arsenal of approximately 60 pedals, all set to “VAPORIZE.”
The crowd response was a slow burn, starting with head-bobbing and building to full-on mosh pit by the encore, which included a bafflingly rad cover of “Monkey Man” by Toots & The Maytals (What?). But hey, M-B have always excelled at pulling out the genius mind-blowing cover somewhere in the set (previous tours have featured defibrillating versions of Devo’s “Uncontrollable Urge” and Blondie’s “Heart of Glass”). By the end of the night, Madtown was properly sweaty and shins were aching—it’s hard to keep your balance while simultaneously dancing and keeping yourself upright against a throng of drunk slam dancers, to say nothing of the atomic blast coming from the stage. As the crowd spilled out into the December night, one could only hope Melt-Banana would be back before the fallout has time to settle. Getting to see one of the best live bands in the world only once every two years or so, after all, is downright torturous when you only exist in three dimensions.