Japanese hardcore band Melt-Banana hits WOW Hall
Yasuko Onuki barely beats the five-foot mark. Her wrists are slim, petite and crystal delicate. She has short, jet-black hair with brown highlights. There’s a hint of glitter in the shadows of her eyes, and when she smiles, her face glows.
But as she prepared to open her set at WOW Hall on Saturday night, her gaze was steady and focused like an astronaut just moments before liftoff.
And then it happened. Without warning, she went off with more potency than 100 hand grenades.
The room was hers.
The sound of Japanese hardcore band Melt-Banana is original, to say the least. It’s like what’s left after music and adrenaline tear each other apart.
Yasuko (who goes by Yako) and guitarist Ichirou Agata have been playing together since the early ’90s. On this tour, they’re accompanied by Takiya Terada on drums and Rika Hamamoto on bass. Together the duo has released 10 albums and more than 20 singles.
Yako explained how over the years, the experience has changed her.
“We went to many, many countries. When I started the band, my head is like, ‘I like this band, only this band. Not others, because I don’t like other music.’ My head was very stiff,” she said.
“But after playing with many bands and going to many countries, I saw many things so my head got really flexible. This really changed my way of thinking about music.”
After about five years of playing together, the group became more independent and recorded its third album, 1998’s “Charlie,” without the use of a sound engineer or other producer. Yako said that while “Charlie” was the most difficult album to record, it was also the most fun.
“It was the first album for us to produce by ourselves and also record by ourselves. We had to decide everything. It was hard work, but we enjoyed all of it. We started to record in that way after that,” Yako said.
Melt-Banana has toured with God Is My Co-Pilot, Slipknot and Tool. The group has been playing internationally almost the entire time, including countless tours in North America, Europe, Australia and Asia.
One interesting thing about playing in different countries is the behavior of different cultures at shows.
“When I first played in the United States, I thought the audience was really noisy. They talk in a really loud voice,” she said.
And though they’re more similar now, Japanese audiences used to be different.
“Ten years ago or 20 years ago, the audience in Japan was really quiet and very strict while listening to music. So when I came to this the first time, people looked like they were really enjoying the music. I was really happy.”
Agata and Yako came up with the name “Melt-Banana” because it described their sound.
“I wanted to have catchy, poppy name. Then Agata said, ‘Well, if you want something pop, banana will be pop thing.’ He was imagining Andy Warhol, from the pop art,” Yako said.
“I don’t know why the ‘melt’ popped into my mind, but ‘banana’ sounds reasonably pop, and I think it’s good,” she said.
The group was originally scheduled to release a new album before the tour, but the tragic earthquake in Japan changed their plans.
“Right after the earthquake, I wasn’t affected much,” Yako said. “But after one month or two months, I started to feel something different.
“We couldn’t finish the album before the tour, and it was hard for me to write the lyrics. Everything you write, it’s too mixed up. I couldn’t write anything.”
The band has been going 100 miles per hour since they started, but they took it to a new level during their encore at WOW Hall on Saturday evening.
It was an endless battery of bass, high-pitched vocals and rhythms so fast that they nearly outran their own sound. And suddenly everything paused, and Yako was alone singing the same song she has been all along: “It’s a Wonderful World.”
Melt-Banana has 51 more shows across North America before they head home in two months. They plan to finish their album and release it next spring.
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