Japanese Noise Rock Loudly Comes
Melt-Banana comes to the Cactus Club, ready to discombobulate.
Top Show: Melt-Banana, Tuesday, May 12, Cactus Club
When people from other lands take up American cultural inventions, they often reflect those inventions back to us in funhouse mirrors. We usually learn to like the distortions: the rich rhythms Brazilians added to jazz, the all-embracing cheekiness certain Englishmen added to pop and rock.
Melt-Banana is more wonderfully difficult to absorb. Singer Yasuko Onuki (a.k.a. Yasuko O. or Yako) sings, speaks, and shouts mostly in English, but she’ll sacrifice intelligibility on the altar of intensity; guitarist Ichirou Agata (a.k.a. Agata) plays electric guitar, but he can alternately be described as playing the effects boxes through which he loves pushing the noise.
(Other members, especially drummers, have been temporary and will probably continue to be.)
“They’re Japanese” explains everything and nothing because, yes, Japan can seem strange to Americans (two words: tentacle hentai) and can also seem as hip as hip can be (for example, Japan had properly mastered Miles Davis albums before the country that birthed him did).
Plus, Melt-Banana isn’t that popular in Japan and prefers touring the United Kingdom and the United States—Tuesday’s gig is the first of three in Wisconsin this year—over touring closer to home.
Whether leaning toward accessibility on its most recent studio album, 2013’s Fetch, or leaning at all degrees of angles toward and away from accessibility on its new non-album singles collection, Return of 13 Hedgehogs, Melt-Banana rejoices in fury and lankiness.
Maybe the duo makes Melt-Banana music as the Ramones made Ramones music: with little overt inclination to do anything else, even when switching out its usual instruments for a Theremin and drum machine. Its funhouse mirror is discombobulating, and quite enthralling.
Wednesday, May 13: William Fitzsimmons at Shank Hall
A mountain-man beard and an acoustic guitar can be a deadly combination, especially when worn by a dude under 40, and William Fitzsimmons is in his late 30s. And, just below the hairy and woody surfaces, Fitzsimmons doesn’t appear all that different from the rest of the aspiring troubadours across America.
A little deeper, though, albums like 2014’s Lions show a burgeoning ability to take personal feelings and stories and turn them into songs that look for the universal. His new, seven-song Pittsburgh EP (named for his hometown) also shows that Fitzsimmons prefers to let the words and melodies, rather than an overblown voice, carry his emotions.
Thursday, May 14 through Sunday, May 17: Milwaukee Psych Fest 3 at Cactus Club
Now here’s a festival worthy of the City of Festivals: four days of people aligned with, fond of, grooving on, and otherwise cranking rock ‘n’ roll as twisted through the warped-reality mind-melt of psychedelic experiences…or simulations of such experiences. If the music makes you feel as though you’re on drugs, it doesn’t matter if you’ve actually taken drugs.
With 23 bands scheduled, picking highlights ain’t easy, but Retribution Gospel Choir (from Duluth, with Low’s Alan Sparhawk) and the Holydrug Couple (from Santiago, Chile) are stellar examples from outside Milwaukee, while Drugs Dragons and Feck (reuniting for its first show since the 1990s) are just two of the fine representatives of a heavy local scene.
For true believers, Saturday and Sunday’s lineups both start at 3 p.m., so don’t peak early.
Thursday, May 14: Tame Impala at Riverside Theater
If you wish to ease yourself into Psych Fest 3 and its lysergic glories, then you might skip Thursday’s (admittedly excellent) lineup and see a currently popular version of trippin’ rock via Tame Impala, itself transmitting primarily through frontman Kevin Parker via the origin antenna metaphorically mounted atop his bedroom in Perth, Australia.
After picking up a 2014 Grammy nomination—along with many other award nominations and wins—for its second full-length, 2012’s mind-caressing Lonerism, Tame Impala has released a handful of new tracks from its third LP, Currents, that indicate expansions to and refinements of a sound that rarely loses focus, despite the cotton-candy clouds and hallucinations.
Currents won’t be out until mid-July, so here’s one taste:
Sunday, May 17: The Damnwells at Club Garibaldi
Hard work, catchy songs, dedicated fanbase: none of it means as much as a band hopes once luck pokes its dopey snout into the scrum that determines commercial success or failure. The Damnwells had the aforementioned elements, and then, as seen in a 2007 documentary, struggled with the aforementioned luck and a major label. The original lineup disintegrated not long after.
Reunited, the prime foursome recently issued a self-titled album with songs that are pop-rock equivalents of a really good burger and crisp French fries: very similar to many other burgers and fries until consumption proves them to be more toothsome. Commercial luck hasn’t favored the Damnwells; neither has tuneful fortune deserted them.