An Evening with Melt-Banana and Doc Brown: by Max Puhala

Dec 24, 2013

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“This is our community, and we should take care of each other. A show is a place we are supposed to be together, having a good time, supporting one another. The real world will beat you down enough—we don’t need to get stomped on at a show. Give each other a hand.”

Crowded. My first thought, neither relieved nor upset. Just surprised.

I should have known Melt-Banana would draw impressively. After two decades’ worth of writing and touring with their noisy brand of hardcore, how couldn’t they have built-up a devoted following? Fetch had been killing it on my work playlist recently, being their best album since 2003’s Cell-Scape, and the crowd thought it too, fiendishly snatching up the LPs and CDs at the merch table during every stop of the tour. By the time the Tokyo natives had reached our neck of the woods, all of it had been long sold out.

I missed the duo last time in 2011 and wasn’t going to let it happen again. To see Melt-Banana would be an experience—something far more memorable than yet another night, standing with my arms folded, looking up at a stage with indifference.

Those in attendance fit wonderfully into no social category. Giant, tall men with dreadlocks. Scattered patched denim and studs. A girl in a flowery dress up front, clutching a bulky Canon. There were even older fans, reaching forty and fifty, and as happy as ever. Maybe they romanticized the Squeak Squeak Creak days.

One older man stole his hairstyle from Christopher Lloyd’s beloved onscreen time traveling mad scientist, Dr. Brown. He looked like a mad scientist himself, with his frazzled white hair protruding out in all directions, except, of course, from the top of his shiny head. He stood behind my friend and me, often closing his eyes and smiling during the most intense instrumentals.

After Retox—a newly-signed, fast Epitaph hardcore outfit—the Japanese duo set up the stage themselves. Pacing back and forth, Agata was already donning his signature surgical mask. The nosebleeds sometimes started before shows, so it was better to be safe than sorry. Yako lifted a gigantic speaker with her tiny arms as if it weighed nothing, and the crowd eagerly began to cluster beneath her calm gaze.

Low, yellow lighting continued to linger. Spread, bubbling conversations rose and popped in the haze, all boxed into the small room of the venue. Whiskey breath wafted into my face as I discussed which CityCop release was best with my friend. I’ve always preferred the consistency of Seasons, but he remained steadfast in his first LP worship.

Then, the noise began.

The intensity was unmatchable. Arms and limbs flailing everywhere. I became pressed against the wall as the floor opened up in the center. The kid in front of me looked concerned, but I was at peace. 

Keith Morris of OFF! and Circle Jerks said it best: “Now I have a chance to be with my own type of people. Now I have a chance to go off.”

They played “Chain-Shot to Have Some Fun” early on as crazed anger piled up in front of the stage, desperate to scream back in Yako’s face, uncaged.

Stage diving was absent, oddly enough, with most of the activity gravitating toward the open floor in the center. Angry balled fists pumping at Yako. Agata’s head banging. The surgical mask over his mouth rising and falling in sync with his chaotic breathing.

The drum machine blasted through the gigantic stacks of speakers. Nasty bass picking and plucking, electrifying the spinning and swinging crowd below. This is one of the most exciting shows I’ve experienced in years, I thought.

Then it happened suddenly, as it always does. 

A stray body found its way into our tight group against the wall, not on purpose. No one was at fault. He smashed into my friend directly to the left of me, who fell back into the wall. He was fine, but Doc Brown standing directly behind him was not.

I heard a “thump”—one that hurt just to hear. The concrete beneath my sweat-soaked shoes rattled, and the man collapsed to the floor, his feet sliding out in front of him, and his grey mad scientist hair bunching up against the wall. Limp arms and hands rested on the wet concrete, and his head drooped to the left, attempting to rest on his shoulder.

As expected, the insanity persisted. Melt-Banana was blissfully unaware, and tore through “Infection Detective” from their new record. The old man continued to lie. A ring had formed around him of confused, hesitant onlookers.

A clean cut teenager nudged the man’s shoulder with no response. He shrugged and turned back to his girlfriend as another body flew into him. A slow trickle of blood had begun to run down the man’s wrinkled nose.

The noise ended abruptly. Thunderous applause bounced back and forth in the venue’s tiny box as Melt-Banana left the stage. An encore was in order.

Elated masses of sweat, steam, and blissful release stumbled past me, some stepping over the man’s moist brown pants, others drunkenly avoiding the outstretched body. The bar became swarmed with arms and hands grasping for water.

With some space around me, I reached down to pick up the man, wrapping his arm around my shoulder. His wet armpits dampened my shirt. I asked for help. 

“This man is hurt,” I yelled. “We need to move him.” My twiggy arms were not enough to hold the limp body up alone. 

Concern fell upon deaf ears. No “Yes” or “No,” no fellow humanly response. Just stares, confusion, apprehension to get involved. Melt-Banana was about to come back on. What if they missed it? What if they were outside, talking to paramedics while everyone else was in the venue, bathing in the euphoria? What if helping someone else meant they had to sacrifice something for themselves?

The man began to slide down, his weight too much for me to support on my own. I turned to a bench as he slumped once more, releasing him from my arm into the seat.

Melt-Banana reappeared and the noise continued once more. But all I could hear was apathy.

Lamb Of God and You

The quote at the top of the page comes from Randy Blythe, lead singer of Lamb Of God. Now, I’m very aware that Lamb Of God may be one of the most unpunk things on this crowded planet (can’t say I’m much of a follower), but after having to cope with the death of a fan at one of their shows and the seemingly never-ending personal and legal problems that followed, I think the band has a bit more weight on their shoulders than one would expect.

Punk or not, it’s our duty as humans to help each other out when some one sustains injuries of any sort at a show, and when something like punk music—so closely associated with the ideographs of community and family—fails to live up to that duty, then what are we all singing about in the first place?

This is our community, and we should take care of each other. A show is a place we are supposed to be together, having a good time, supporting one another. The real world will beat you down enough—we don’t need to get stomped on at a show. Give each other a hand.