On the surface, Yasuko "Yako" Onuki and Ichirou Agata - the core members of Tokyo's Melt-Banana - seem to be about wild vocals and raw-yet-wacky guitar playing. However, it's their speed and their Dada-like fascination with the absurd that make fans out of listeners, especially when the combo plays a live show.
In fact, everything Melt-Banana touches seems to morph into anti-art. The "About" section of the band's website may even qualify as a neo-Dada masterpiece. Organized as an FAQ list, it blends questions listeners may be too afraid to ask ("Is Yako singing in Japanese?") with questions that seem completely random ("Best soup?").
Yako is singing in English, for those who are wondering, and the band's favorite soup is asparagus because it "has a strange Japanese name." But the question "What type of music?" is the real head-scratcher. Some fans say noise rock, some say no wave and some say hardcore.
Perhaps a better question is, "Where does Melt-Banana's art end?" Maybe the soup-and-sandwich factoids are part of the songs. Maybe the music is asparagus soup. And it's good for you, too.
Taking in Melt-Banana is certainly good for your ears, and it may get you to exercise - if you count moshing as a workout. As Agata dons a surgical mask and goes mad-scientist on his guitar, Yako's vocals serve as the scalpel, slicing through the sound effects with precision and speed.
As the music gets faster, electricity builds in the crowd until it's all one massive spazz-out. But beneath the commotion is a melody, one that may be a chunk of Devo, a piece of the Damned or a slice of sound only Yako and Agata could dream up. For their latest album, Melt-Banana Lite Live Ver 0.0, the band rearranges and destroys its own songs in front of a live audience.
At a Melt-Banana show, just when the musicians seem about to lose control, they kick things up a notch and burn through a set that's shorter, tighter and faster than the one that preceded it. Those who survive the wreckage get to call themselves fans.