Review in th Wire Magazine
BIRMINGHAM MEDICINE BAR UK
BY MARTIN LONGLEY
This was the Tokyo combo’s fourth European tour, acting as a hearty push for their recent Cell-Scape disc. After a decade’s activity, it’s only their fourth album, although Melt-Banana have also issued a compilation of cassette obscurities, a live set and a healthy 19 EPs. Their reputation (at least in my own subjective life) has been forged via massive exposure on John Peel’s show, not least their staggering series of Maida Vale live broadcasts.
The line-up remains YaKo (speed vocals), Agata (panoramic guitar) and Rika (contortionist bass), with Burnt By The Sun’s Dave Witte guesting on drums. The instrumentalists come out first, setting up a rolling momentum for YaKo’s purposeful entrance.
Agata swoops everything up full, stroking, hitting and slamming his guitar to produce broad swathes of multi-layered distortion, or alternatively, tight stutters with in-between razor spaces. He uses bottleneck to race up and down the frets, sometimes toying with outbreaks of what sound like accelerated boogie woogie or sludgy bar-room blues. Rika’s bass is weighty but nimble, fingers slapping hard, but unwinding convoluted lines that repeat and intertwine with Agata’s wall-of-noise. Witte is constantly changing rhythmic direction, nailing down these sudden shifts, with all four Bananas perfectly attuned to the communal dynamics of each stunted-length number. Melt-Banana have become such a bonded unit that they can ride these rapids with ease, maintaining a level of rapt attention in the audience that doesn’t let up over their hour-long set. The entire experience is one of intense compaction: extremely short songs that manage to communicate their separateness, like a series of micro-suites.
YaKo sways gently against the unrelenting bombardment of her bandmates, reeling out her microphone lead like she’s about to measure up a bespoke suit, tilting her head slightly as if to coax out the finest nuances of yelping precision. No matter how hard, how dense, how speeding or how intricate these truncated songs are, she’s reeling off staccato lines with an unerring rhythmic attack, keeping hold of her melodic sense, always singing rather than spewing guttural shouts. YaKo, eyes darting left and right, seems to be in a quiet sphere of her own, partly oblivious to the surrounding aural overload.
After the first encore, music’s piped through the PA, but the crowd keeps bellowing for more. Just as everyone starts to drift away, the Bananas return for another one-minute assault, an almost ludicrously brief return for these masters of new headbanging complexity.