Japanese rock-complexity titans lay waste to Digbeth warehouse! Martin Longley was down the front.
Here’s another twosome, following the previous evening’s Tir Na Nóg gig: but oh-so-very different! Melt Banana used to be a full four-piece combo, but this Tokyo duo now create a competitively wall-of-sound barrage, regardless of being a cut-price incarnation since 2012.
Technology now makes it easier for drums and electronics to be controlled manually via the use of a handheld device, which singer Yasuko Onuki brandishes like she’s conducting an imaginary orchestra. Linked to a laptop, the mini-console appears to allow triggering of drum-rush solo stutters, providing an element of personal control, rather than just letting the computer files roll on, inviolate. It also gives Onuki something to flourish, raising her arm or flailing in a circular motion, responding to overloaded guitarist Ichirou Agata. These are the founder members, together for just over two decades. Their rapport is innate.
The live drums and bass weren’t particularly missed, with today’s sophisticated speaker systems working to provide full aggressive sonic slamming. This approach could be risky in a venue with a primitive sound set-up or a sub-standard mixer, but on this evening all was triumphantly crystalline, powerfully arrayed. The songs were typically concise, rammed with speed-thrust, negotiating complicated rhythm patterns, and demanding superior rehearsal capacities. If most of the numbers were brief, there were even more fleeting pleasures awaiting, as Onuki heralded a mini-set of eight short songs. When she says short, she means short, with most of them being well under 30 seconds in length, like curt micro-symphonies.
Then, as a contrast, the climax-run involved some extended guitar blistering, with vocals suspended in favour of electronic texturing. Melt Banana have always given equal attention to guitars and electronics, melding the two with a complete absence of prejudice. Shockingly, they included a cover version as an encore, interpreting the Louis Armstrong chestnut What A Wonderful World. Onuki managed to retain the song’s melody, even at great velocity, skimming over Agata’s guitar avalanche. Her vocals are blessed with an agility that matches his every extreme guitar slalom.