Melt-Banana @ Robot, Budapest, 2017.10.11
For me, this was the fourth time to see Melt-Banana live. A saw them twice in Vienna (2003, 2005) and then in Budapest, during their first and up till now only visit to Hungary in 2010. And after each and every show, I came to the conclusion that they are easily amongst the best live bands ever. The intensity and energy of the shows was just incredible, they were simply on a whole different level than any other bands that I’ve ever seen. However since 2010 they went through a quite drastic change, cutting down their live lineup from four members to a duo (as explained in my recent interview with them), so, when they finally returned to Budapest this October I was extremely curious to see how this change affected their shows and their sound in general.
This time they were touring around Europe with Finland’s NYOS, a band playing a very loud and noisy mixture of post rock, math rock, doom and whatever else and they turned out to be pretty damn great (photos from their set can be found here), a perfect opener for the Japanese noisecore masters. And then Melt-Banana hit the stage and after a noisy intro they started the show with Shield For Your Eyes, A Beast In The Well On Your Hand from 2003’s incredible Cell-Scape and well… that song is still the best show opener ever. And I say “still” as they started the other three shows I saw years ago with the exact same track… even though based on setlist.fm that seems to be more like an accident actually. Anyways, the rest of the setlist was a nice mixture of newer tracks from their latest albums, old favorites and of course, the classic “short songs section” which includes mostly age-old tracks (this time five of them) from the first few albums, that clock around a minute or even less… like the wonderful We Love Choco-Pa. And we also got a couple of covers, including an extremely weird take on What A Wonderful World during the encore.
So, the setlist was basically flawless and mostly what you would expect from them, spiced up with a few nice surprises, but the more important question was… did the show itself live up to their old ones? And well, that is definitely a more difficult question. They said in interviews that their first few gigs as a duo did not work out that well, as they felt kinda like a karaoke event and even onstage they were lacking the dynamics. But then they figured out that piling up big and loud amps behind them will give them them the feeling of playing with a live band and also, Yako switched to using a remote to control the programmed bass and drum patterns, so this way the show became more live and flexiblea and they were more in control of what’s going on. And well… it worked for a certain extent. They were definitely loud, in part because of the amps lined up on the small stage did their job and in part because the staff at Robot have a tendency to go overboard with the volume anyways. And Yako waving around that shiny, colorful remote controller was an interesting addition to the show and I am sure it is much better than to just have a computer play the background music, but still, this all did not fully make up for the lack of a bass and drum player. And it wasn’t just the sound that somewhat lacked that impact that a live rhythm section can add, but the strange presence either was just not the same as it used to be with the full rock band lineup.
But even with all that taken into account… not much changed actually. The music is still as powerful and original as ever, Yako’s one-of-a-kind vocals are still insane and over the top, the sounds Agata can make with his guitar and his army of pedals is just otherworldly and even the setlist did not change that much. So, at its base, all is the same as it was, it is just… a slightly bit different. And even though after this show I did not end up saying that MxBx is one of the best live acts ever… they still come pretty damn close.