Yeah, Christmas Day night saw my fiancee and me at Club Asia in Shibuya, just off of Love Hotel Hill (no, we did not go there and check in, you pervs) for Guitar Wolf's 25th anniversary show, with Melt-Banana as one of the opening acts.
How many times had I already seen Melt-Banana? There were those six that I knew about for sure, close enough for the amps to blow their last breath in my face. This time they performed as a duo, just Yasuko and Agata, no Rika. Their website seems to suggest they've always been a duo, with Rika as more or less a helper, but I remember when she seemed an integral part of the unit. I remember when they had a regular drummer, too, but Rika, as bassist, was right up front, stage right (the left side of the stage for us audience stooges).
With Yako's powerful, white-hooded charisma holding down the center and Agata whirling around in all his masked glory on the right, we relied on Rika to anchor things. Smallish woman with the huge bass sound, her hair falling in front of her face like Sadako from Ringu at times (at least that's the comparison my students invariably made whenever I showed them photos), sometimes bouncing in place. With drums and bass synthesized for my seventh time worshiping at the MxBx altar or noise, Yasuko and Agata seemed at times in danger of flying away.
It was one of their most powerful performances. The last few times I saw them, they were solid but playing short sets in tiny venues seemed to limit their energy. This show was more reminiscent of the first couple of times I saw them, when I came away dazed and kind of giddy, knowing I'd found my Thing. But I did miss Rika. I'm not inside enough to know what she's up to now, why she split. I wonder if Melt-Banana Lite, the bass-less version of the band, came about because Rika began scaling back on her participation for her own purposes. These, however, remain a mystery.
Last year was Melt-Banana's 20th as a band, by the way.
Unfortunately, we didn't stay for Guitar Wolf! While I'm used to dark, smoky venues and edgy crowds, my fiancee wasn't too keen on the scene. Even wearing an Agata-style mask didn't help protect her against cigarette smoke, which she really doesn't care for at all. She liked Speeder-X, the first act, and they were a lot of fun. Just a bass and drums, completely tearing things up sonically. But by the time Melt-Banana came on, she'd had it with the smoke and was too uncomfortable to enjoy their performance.
I tried to wait around so I could buy some Melt-Banana t-shirts, but they weren't going to sell any until after the headliners and we just couldn't stay any longer. So no shirts as souvenirs. I have to give my fiancee lots of credit for sticking it out for as long as she did. I'm very proud of her. Choking on smoke is no way to celebrate Christmas.
And trust me, I will happily do anything she wants even if it's not something I'm usually into. Fair is fair!
Anyway, if you're interested in the two-person Melt-Banana experience, here's a link to a fine photo essay of another recent Rika-less show in which the photographer/essayist comes to grips with noise and Melt-Banana. I didn't take any photos because Club Asia doesn't permit photography (a few people violated the rules anyway, but I just wanted to be a participant in the moment rather than take a step back and become an observer/recorder).
As for me, I'm already anticipating MxBx show number eight.