REVIEW: Melt-Banana commands Gods of Noise

Melt Banana GigCity EdmontonEsteemed Japanese noise rockers Melt-Banana’s debut in Edmonton may stand as one of the best shows of the year – to the annoyance of those who will now have to hear about it for the rest of the summer. The pairing of this insanely eclectic noise duo with the grungy sound of opening act Torche’s thudding bass was a masterpiece of booking that highlighted the dynamic range of these two bands.

As opener Torche had the opportunity to highlight its move toward a much sludgier sound from the most recent album, Restarter, the Miami group’s set moved through the band’s earlier work pulling from the albums Meanderthal and Harmonicraft. It’s clear the foursome knows how to play well together, and while the band executed a technically great performance from their static positions on stage, there was little engagement or room for inspired interactivity that can really bring a show to life – though that may not have been noticed in the pit of Union Hall’s crowd, which greeted each new track with attentive fist pumps or timely head banging. Torche smartly drove the ending home hard with most of the new material off of Restarter, hitting heavy in a set that lacked dynamic action.

While Torche slammed through their set with barely a pause between technically deft guitar riffs, Melt-Banana’s Yasuko Onuki held the crowd in the palm of her hand like the drum machine controller she wielded throughout the set. From the moment she started in with her chaotically beautiful high pitched vocals it was impossible to look away. Owning the stage is perhaps a cliche description, but there’s no arguing that if a competition were held in the field of stage presence, Onuki would be a finalist. She commanded noise from the handheld drum machine controller, waving it in wide arcing motions as though calling on the Gods of Noise Rock to take control of the entire venue.

Melt Banana GigCity EdmontonOnuki interspersed her rapping with between-song banter, describing some of the songs to the crowd of over 200 people who might’ve been missing out on her rapidfire lyrics and some of the origins of their music. Having played together since 1992, Melt-Banana primarily drew on their most recent album Fetch, but integrated some of their 23 singles, what the band calls “hedgehogs,” and some of their many covers.

While Onuki alternated between commanding the noise gods to bouncing pure energetic joy, guitarist Ichirou Agata stoically focused on his cycling guitar riffs. While the band maintains the chaos of the noise ethos, Agata’s guitar as well as Onuki’s lyrics provide stronger structure and melody hidden in the fray. With eleven albums, 23 singles – hedgehogs – and numerous covers to pull from their over 20 years of existence, the live Melt-Banana experience provided an intense and engaging overview of what we’ve been missing all these years.

As one of the first larger metal shows to move from the more intimate setting of the Pawn Shop to Union Hall, this can be counted as a success. Union Hall’s sound system definitely passed the Melt-Banana test and some rearrangements have helped to recreate the intimacy and closeness to the stage that Pawn Shop usually provided. It’s going to be one of those performances that those who were there will declare one of the best of the year.