That was Melt-Banana frontwoman Yasuko Onuki’s response to a drunken audience member’s request for “some more of that crazy Japanese shit” sometime during last night’s show at The Bishop. Compared against the relentless hour of convention-skewering noise-punk that the quartet brought to the stage, her inquisitive cat noise came off as relatively normal. Normal for Melt-Banana, anyway.
In what has to be the best national-to-local bill matchup in Bishop history, the opening acts were just as crazy and just as fun as the main attraction. Bloomingtonians Vernal Pike’s set ended with a guerrilla attack on the stage by people planted in the audience wearing V for Vendetta masks who showered the Bishop with pie pans full of what I certainly hope was whipped cream. I only caught about half a song after walking into the Bishop later than I meant to, so I can’t give a fair value judgment of Vernal Pike’s live presence beyond the fact that it’s quite disconcerting to open the door by the stage and see pie-fueled mayhem erupting seconds later.
Next up was longtime local favorite Racebannon. It’s rather fitting that Melt-Banana should play a show here and be saddled with a local opener since in the entire world perhaps no one share’s the spazz-punk spirit of the Tokyo natives quite like the dudes in Racebannon. Through about 45 minutes of sonic carnage, the band brought both its lackadaisical humor and penchant for face-ripping to the stage in full force, perhaps due partly to the fact that it was to be drummer Brad Williams’ last show ever with the band. Unfortunately, the band also conceded Williams a boring, drawn-out drum solo halfway through the set that killed all the noisy momentum they had built. It’s a testament to their strength as a live act, though, that by the end of the set they had gotten it all back and more. You’re blessed to have a local act this good, Bloomington. Support them.
After a relatively short changeover and the conspicuous disappearance of a giant mascot cat that had previously been roaming the audience, Melt-Banana took the stage. What happened for the next hour is as difficult to describe as Melt-Banana’s music itself, but I’ll try. The tendency when writing about Melt-Banana is to focus on Yasuko Onuki, and that’s fair. Her singing style is unlike just about anyone else’s in the world, all nearly-rapped staccato and high-pitched little girl tones repackaged as punk rock. Her stage presence is similarly magnetic. Her arms flail, her eyes bug out and she belies her inherent cuteness with the composure of a mental patient that borders on the deeply disturbing. But all the writing about Onuki undervalues what is truly the most impressive and most important thing about Melt-Banana: Guitarist Ichirou Agata.
Agata’s three (!) large pedal boards and demonically possessed pick hand produced a wider range of sounds than I’ve ever seen a single person generate onstage. His right hand seemed to be operating totally independently of his brain as it jumped around from string to string, scraping and plucking and clawing and tapping at approximately three times the speed of light. Expressionless behind his ubiquitous surgical mask, Agata gave perhaps the most impressive performance I’ve ever seen by a guitarist.
Melt-Banana’s set was consistent in its intensity even as it was so widely varying in sound. The band tore through renditions of fan favorite like “Spider Snipe” and “Cat Brain Land” as well as a mini-set of eight songs clocking in around the 30-second mark, each hilariously introduced separately. The piece de resistance was a speed metal version of Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World” to close the encore. Every last person in the Bishop was smiling and plenty were doing their damnedest to sing along. It was a pitch-perfect cap to what may have been the best show I’ve ever seen in Bloomington.
Post by Brad Sanders; Photography by Steph Aaronson