Melt-Banana, P.L.X.T.X., Hot Nerds
June 5, 2015
Until 2007, Melt-Banana were more prolific than a cage filled with libidinous rabbits on a warm spring day. Beginning in 1994, the band released 11 albums, countless EPs, worked with legendary avant-garde composers Merzbow and John Zorn, and opened for Mr. Bungle and Tool. Vocalist Yasuko Onuki and guitarist/experimenter extraordinaire Ichirou Agata are Japan's answer to the question, “What would Sonic Youth and the Dead Kennedys sound like if you threw them in a canvas bag with a couple of ornery cats?” Melt-Banana's waters calmed temporarily between 2007 and 2013's Fetch, an album of similarly powerful sonic typhoons. But last Friday night at Fitzgerald’s, the duo searched and destroyed the sparsely assembled crowd for 45 asphyxiating minutes.
But before Melt-Banana's sonic warfare ensued, Houston’s own P.L.X.T.X. (pronounced Pluto) left little, if any, of the stage for Melt Banana to execute their mission. Light stands stood like armed sentinels protecting their respected leader, Bradley Munoz; bright white fluorescent lights pulsed and dimmed while he sprayed the audience with his apocalyptic invectives.
Embodied by the spirit of Minor Threat had they discovered drum machines and synths instead of guitars and drums, P.L.X.T.X. raged through a 27-minute set, screaming at the top of his lungs the many despairs of modern life. Jumping from stage to floor, lunging toward the audience like a starved predatory animal, Munoz filled Fitzgerald’s with noise and breakbeats that would have made Aphex Twin's Richard D. James proud. A rebel without a literal pause, P.L.X.T.X. performed his set without coming up for air. As his set came to a close, Munoz’s labored to express his thanks to the audience, leaving what was left of him on the obliterated stage.
San Diego's Hot Nerds, a.k.a. Das Four Eyez Kult, also brought the noise and some much-needed levity following P.L.X.T.X.’s shrapnel-laced performance. The band's Adult Swim brand of hilarity began with a song entitled, “Room for Flatulator,” which bled eardrums with bass-heavy Moog sounds and guitar effects that would have made Beelzebub think he was still kickin’ it with Lucifer in Hell.
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Pounding with primacy and precision, Hot Nerds may have been influenced by John Cage and John Zorn, but wore their hardcore punk hearts on their sleeves as the band's vocal impressionist – I dare not call him a “lead vocalist” or “lead singer” – made cacophonic noises with his throat. “Hairy Lightbulb” stood out like a puss-filled sore thumb. An oddball ode to the late, great hardest-working man in show business, “James Brown Is Dead,” was sung in the key of a careworn kitchen blender. By set's end, the audience was left wondering if what they had just witnessed was a nightmare or real.
Despite the fact that Melt-Banana has abandoned live drums for sequencers and vintage drum machines in their live performance, the band’s sound filled every possible space with the same distinct grindcore volume and ferocity. Vocalist Onuki looked like a little kid on Christmas Day, hoisting a glowing MIDI sequencer above her head with glee. The two-piece flung themselves into “Feedback Deficiency,” and the irony of the song’s title established the evening’s tone. Guitarist Agata wore a surgical mask and worked with the same meticulousness as a hospital scalpel-wielder.
The Japanese dynamic duo shredded any previous notion that Perry Farrell sings like a dying cicada. Onuki’s signature style couldn’t be loved by any mother, but her vocals forced those scared of what they were witnessing to the back of the club. Faces painted with grief, Onuki screeched and yelled while pushing a variety of buttons to make the drums and bass push Fitzgerald’s PA system to its hilt. Riffing in the key of meth and death, Agata’s fingers frantically flew threw one song after the next with the dexterity of a long-distance runner.
Within the firmament of dissonance were melodies that has provided the band’s allure for 20-plus years. Two to three songs in the middle of the set triggered ADHD moments, lasting no longer than thirty seconds. True to form, another song began and couldn’t have lasted more than two seconds. Melt-Banana’s encore consisted of one song — “Candy Gun” an instrumental that without Onuki’s vocals could have been mistaken for an unreleased Fugazi track. Pleased by the crowd’s praises for them, Melt-Banana restored the faith of their followers with the promise of much more activity, which is something music desperately needs right now.