Melt-Banana at Stereo, GlasgowSupport:
October 19, 2019 at Stereo, Glasgow
Promoter: Dictionary Pudding
As Elton John so eloquently put it, Saturday night’s alright for fighting. Sure, he probably wasn’t thinking about Glasgow City Centre on a typical weekend but the sentiment holds up pretty well. After dodging the usual throng of half-cut revellers, it’s a relief to walk into somewhere like Stereo and find nothing but joy and love, and the reason for such well-wishes is simple – Melt-Banana. They’ve been destroying stages, minds and eardrums in equal measure for decades, and in their stripped-down line-up of Yasuko ‘Yako’ Onuki and Ichirou Agata they’ve managed to distil all those years of noise into an hour of hyper-kinetic, boisterous weirdness.
Given that there are only two members present, much of the stage has been curtained off and their considerable backline is moved forward. Coupled with the absence of a barrier and a filled-to-capacity venue, their set is an intimate one, bordering on claustrophobia-inducing. Add in Yako’s exuberant presence, windmilling and flailing her handheld trigger/drum machine/wall-of-sheer-noise generator like it’s an unruly Bop It that has become superglued to her hand, it isn’t long before the chaos in the room starts to catch up with that of their compositions.
Agata is no slouch either, constantly moving within his tiny allocated space while pulling off bursts of fret-frazzling insanity and the kind of all-out sonic warfare that leave you wondering where someone can even begin to learn how to play in such an unorthodox way. The loop- and sample-heavy setup feels like it should restrict his work, placing more of the burden on him to carry the band’s melodic weight but conversely he seems free to execute whatever feels right in the moment. When the onus truly is on him, as when the band rattle through nine short songs in rapid succession, he has already built up the crazy energy necessary to attack ‘Dog Song’ with gusto, even if the barks are nowhere to be heard.
Melt-Banana have never lost the sense that they are, at their core, a noisy grind band. They exude a fervent passion for their music and a sense of hyperactive aggression underpins their work that’s not lost on the crowd, who spend the full set in a desperate, sweaty crush to get a foot closer to the riffs. It even manages to create a couple of crowdsurfing opportunities, though the lack of stage room means a rough landing is always in store. Despite all that, the reason that the Tokyo duo have survived this long is that they are just so damn fun to watch. They’re remarkable and endearing in equal measure, and ‘Lost Parts Stinging Me So Cold’ and pretty much everything from 2013’s Fetch have a jittery sing-song air that at least a few here can’t help but yap along to.
The idea of two people being as loud as a full band is no longer the oddity that it once was but Melt-Banana have taken it to the next level. They have the volume, sure, but there’s complexity, drama, theatrics and a sense of communal energy that isn’t typically witnessed on a scale this small. That speaks volumes about just how unique Yako and Agata’s partnership is and why, even if it takes a lifetime to get a new album, we’ll still have shows like this to keep us content.