Melt Banana | Spelling Bee | Yowie Cicero's October 17, 2011
Upon hearing that Melt-Banana was coming back to St. Louis, and specifically Cicero's, fans were a bit confused. Cicero's? Seriously? Isn't that where sappy singer-songwriters and Widespread Panic cover bands go to jam? If last night was any indication of the venue's direction in concert programming, the simple answer is: not anymore. After beefing up their sound system and tweaking their booking, the venue has slowly been picking up the pace, shifting its focus towards interesting, high-quality music. Last night's show was no exception, packing in a crowd that filled up the approximately 89 person capacity. With a line-up comprised of Spelling Bee's noise rock, Yowie's mathematical violence, and Melt-Banana's hyper-punk, it almost seemed like a throwback to the mid-'90s where Cicero's basement was once home to the likes of the Flying Luttenbachers, You Fantastic! and Zeek Sheck.
Spelling Bee started off the evening, launching into a handful of well-crafted gems, executing each song with surgical precision. Guitarist/singer Mabel Suen's sugar coated delivery gave the music an electric power furthered by her technical prowess. Supplemented by drummer Joeseph Hess' fierce percussive expression, the duo's spasmodic noise-punk was enough to make the crowd sweat in a set lasting under twenty minutes.
Skin Graft recording artists Yowie quickly followed with an unbelievable set of entirely new material. Yowie's music is characterized by drummer Shawn O'Connor's cascading stop-start rhythms matched by the flawless duality of guitarists Jeremiah Wonsewitz and Jim Hagerty. Having broken their hiatus earlier this summer, the band was in top form, performing one of their greatest sets to date. To an unfamiliar ear, some may make the mistake of writing Yowie off as improvisational or meandering. However, upon further inspection, the band's on point rigor exhibits what endless hours of practice can truly do.
After Yowie's first song, O'Connor ran up to the mic, saying, "We're from here too," quickly receiving a volley from a joking audience member yelling, "You live in Cicero's?" O'Connor grinningly responded, "I hacky sack like a motherfucker!" before propelling into the next song. Held together by O'Connor's warp-speed drumming, Wonsewitz's slide guitar flourishes whirred into purgatory with Hagerty blindly playing a mind-boggling lick on guitar. Showing his comedic side, Hagerty went up to the mic asking, "Is Rally Squirrel out there? I guess not. They had to put him down," before annihilating a song that would make any member of Ruins, Hella or Arab On Radar proud.
Based on their looks, you might think the members of Melt-Banana have not aged a day over the band's nineteen-year career. Guitarist Ichirou Agata hit the stage in his trademark surgical mask while bassist Rika Hamamoto stood stage right, barely clearing her bass rig. You could feel the electrified anticipation in the air, as the lights dimmed and singer Yasuko Onuki approached the crowd. With her blank stare, Onuki sang the opening lines to "A Dreamer Who Is Too Weak To Face Up To." Almost immediately, the turbulent pit riled into a frenzy. This audience was fearless in breaking the societal chains that often shackle St. Louisan's feet to the ground. Bodies were writhing the first minute, covered in beer the second, and then drenched in sweat by the third. Leaving little time between songs, Agata switched to alarm mode, cranking his guitar into a siren for the classic "Free the Bee" as one of the bands rotating tour drummers blasted his kit into oblivion.
Melt-Banana's set could've easily doubled as a soundtrack to someone candyflipping at 300 bpm, expelling elements of punk, noise rock, thrash, and pop. Running through a catalog of ten albums worth of material, the band played effortlessly at a lightning quick pace. The pit, ripe with testosterone, rushed the stage like a million sperm speeding towards the egg. At one point, Spelling Bee's Mabel Suen was crowd surfing as the wild pack exorcised its sonic demons, almost resulting in a fight or two.
After having played for a solid twenty minutes, Onuki shouted "It is now time for a cover song!" before launching into a version of "Monkey Man" by Toots and the Maytals (later popularized by the Specials). Any semblance of dancing was quickly crushed by a serious case of bro-moshing, slightly putting out a few concertgoers. Melt-Banana's newer songs were a pleasant treat, at times sounding like some sort of epic, futuristic metal. Playing to primal screams and applause, the band neared the end of its set with crowd favorite "Lost Parts Stinging Me So Cold." As quickly as it had started, the set was over with a squeaky "Thank You!," leaving the band to quickly exit the stage.
Showing threadbare energy, the exhausted crowd shouted out for more, resulting in a two-song encore. MxBx graciously ripped through "Blank Page of the Blind" before ending the night with a ceremonious cover of Louis Armstrong's "What A Wonderful World."
Thanks in part to the 50/50 give and take of the performer and audience, the night was a raging success. Beer in the air, glass on the floor, and the sweat of strangers - this was a night of Hello Kitty-laced brain candy, and the crowd had had its fill.
Notes and setlist on the next page. Critic's Notebook
8 Short Songs: Mid-show Melt-Banana played a segment known as 8 short songs (each less than 30 seconds long) including: "Scrubber," "Screw, Loose" and "We Love Choco-Pa!"
Seen last night: Members of: Grand Ulena, The Conformists, Skarekrau Radio, Who Fucking Cares?, Safety Words, Sine Nomine, The Lonely Procession, a whole Columbia, MO contingent featuring Task Force and C. Murta, Dottie, Kingston Family Singers, Baba Yaga, Orion Pax, Glow Dick, Britches, the Ultraviolents and Little Big Bangs.