Nothing can fully prepare you for the sounds coming off stage at a
unless you've seen the band before. Between the breakneck rhythms, Yasuko Onuki's demented and rapid-fire vocal delivery and Ichirou Agata's ability to meld noise with experimental guitar and poppy punk in the most powerful way possible, it's a recipe for making the kind of music that could incite a riot. And among a few people in the crowd last night, it seemed to just that.
Anyone down front at the Larimer Lounge last night got knocked around most of the show and the running board in front of Agata kept being pushed forward almost over his effects but some people pulled it back.
Having set up on the floor in front of the stage, Echo Beds certainly had the strangest array of equipment out of all the bands on the bill. Contact mics on various pieces of metal, including a filing cabinet that Keith Curts beat like a drum later in the set, a treated bass bowed by Tom "Thunderbird" Nelsen, Keith Curts' distorted screaming vocals, David Mead's sax skronk, metal items dropped on metal and other devices came together to create a primitive but vital and shockingly abrasive industrial sound.
It was not unlike Birthdeath Experience-era White House in its stark and raw ability to startle and like early Savage Republic gone completely off the map of immediate accessibility. The impromptu, perhaps even at times accidental, rhythm gave way to bursts of passionate vocals from Curts and Nelsen and all three players built up to a climax of pounding on metal in unison before falling silent and knocking the equipment over into a big pile. It sounded like it would end in wreckage and that promise was delivered.
Trying to describe Action Friend in linear detail would be a bewildering exercise in clashing contrasts, contradictions and abrupt changes of direction. This was bassist Aaron Holtzer's last show and he made the best of it by helping the group to, despite some problems with the bass distortion pedal, put on one of its strongest shows to date. Each song was like some kind of sonic jigsaw puzzle with some pieces being smooth jazz, others ferocious death metal raging, others Minutemen-esque punk, still others Naked City-like freakouts and a whole array of thrashy blues, grindcore funk, dream bebop, Frank Zappa-inspired interludes reminiscent of the Melvins toying with a dark song idea that makes them laugh. But it all made sense and Action Friend fearlessly sewed all these ideas together and made it incredibly compelling from beginning to end. For the soundcheck, Tjutjuna's Brian Marcus played what sounded like dirty, psych-prog but when the set got going, a sound of synths oscillating over a low end drone filled the room with James Barone coming in with a steady beat that evolved into percussive textures swimming amid kaleidoscopic guitar tones streaming forth from Marcus. It was a sometimes, gentle, sometimes blazing, torrent of sound that shifted in electrifying sheets and swirls. At one point the band hit a pattern of sound that went on a high tone for four counts of four and then a lower register for the same pattern, repeating seemingly endlessly in a perhaps unconscious simulation of the type of sound patterns that faith healers use to release endorphins in a crowd. To end the set, Tjutjuna played a mini-medly of "Tobermorey" and "Bottle Kids" with the guitar, drums and bass very much to the fore in a forceful yet hypnotic tour-de-force of rhythm and coruscating tones. Halfway through the Melt Banana set, Onuki told us they would play eight short songs. Starting with "Scrubber" from the band's debut seven-inch, each song was a short, sharp masterpiece of controlled chaos and focused intensity.
And if it was punk, it was punk if punk didn't try to be in the genre of punk but maintained that spirit of freedom and flouting convention in songwriting. At times the impassioned frenzy of the band coming together was nearly overwhelming but they always let us go abruptly yet gently. Before we knew it, the show would have been over -- but Melt Banana came back on for two more songs ending with a warped yet surprisingly faithful cover of "It's a Wonderful World." If Melt Banana is punk rock, it made the word mean something again.
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Critic's Notebook: Bias: Ichirou Agata is my new guitar hero.
Random Detail: Ran into Cole Rudy of Varlet and Kitezh at the show.
By the Way: Agata uses twin Sunn Beat Lead heads and two Marshall 4X12 cabinets to help get some of that incredibly robust and clear sound he gets.