Thursday, June 25, 2009
The first time I saw Japan's Melt-Banana, at the good old Vista in Eureka back in 1998 or 1999, they absolutely blew my mind. But luckily, I was prepared for them to blow my mind. You see, my good friend Robb (R.I.P.) had dubbed me a tape a few months earlier, and I KNEW I was in for something special. Not so with the rest of the audience. The performance area in The Vista was relatively small (about the size of a large garage), and as soon as Melt-Banana tore into their first song the bewildered crowd completely FLIPPED, flailing about in a mad vortex of chaos and confusion. Melt-Banana FUCKING KILLED IT, ripping through a set of about 30 lighning-fast blasts of high octane noise and throwing the crowd into a near riot. It was one of the best shows I've ever seen.
Melt-Banana's sound (especially in the late 90's) is a tough one to categorize. Frenetic, grinding drums and chirpy female vocals both play a large part, but it's the guitar work that really puts it over the top. Sounding like some sort of malfunctioning, insane circus machinery, the axe-work is run through a series of alternating effects, sometimes screeching, sometimes echoing, and sometimes exploding -- but hardly ever sounding like a GUITAR at all. It's fucked up.
Scratch or Stitch, in my opinion, was the band's high point. In the years following, Trey Spruance and Mike Patton got ahold of the band, doing "guest spots" on their records and steering them away from their brilliant and unique course. Soon after, Melt-Banana realized their profitablity and began recording poppier and more easily-digestable music. Which is a shame.
Following the show at The Vista, I had a chance to talk with the four polite young freaks that make up Melt-Banana. Gibbering awkwardy about my admiration for their music, it soon became apparent that they didn't understand a word I was saying. The sweaty, incoherent gaijin standing before them was making them nervous, and they quickly signed a glossy 8x10 for me and sent me on my way. Which I still have (and treasure) to this day.