The Bananas are rock gods. Will somebody please tell them? Call up guitarist Mike at noon in sleepy Sacramento when he's only been up for an hour ("I just had a couple of cocktails, so I might not make much sense," he'll apologize) and let him know. He'll be kind of embarrassed. He'll modestly deny it. He'll laugh. "We're just kinda geeks, you know?" he'll say. But a geek is just a genius with a bad haircut—and the last time we saw Mike Banana, he had a pretty bad haircut.
See, the Bananas could be the last of the great flip-out bands: completely unpretentious and infectious spastic punk rock that lapses into tango breakdowns when lesser bands would exhort people to mosh. When you hear them, you flip out, drag your friends onstage, grab their microphone and try to play their instruments for them. You can't help it. And they don't seem to mind. Beyond the fact that they're probably drunk (they've missed some good shows because he was passed out, says Mike), they're amazed that anyone thinks they're any good. You just wanna wad up some self-esteem and cram it down their throats.
"We're probably the laziest motherfuckin' band in the world: two albums in 10 years!" Mike protests. "We were supposed to play just one show, and we wound up sticking together."
So their whole career—from about 1992 to the present and using the term "career" loosely—has been a bit of an accident. They're still rock gods. That's just how they approach this whole music thing, recording both of their albums (Forbidden Fruit and Slippery Subject, and we're sure you see the humor there) in two days. "We're the fuckin' one-take wonders," says Mike, laughing. "Because we're so professional and all."
He's joking, but he's got a point. The Bananas have secret powers, chief among them Mike's freakish man-with-two-brains ability to craft these sunny, kinda '60s, bubble-gum ditties and these trashy, punk drag racers, generally as the same song. It's like hearing the Monkees burst, Bruce Banner-like, into Motrhead. Then he yelps out these strangled lyrics about universal truths like life and love and loneliness and alienation, filtered through a typically Sacramentonian perspective. "Why are all the songs on the first album either about stalking someone or being stalked by someone?" I ask him. "What?" he says. "They're not all about that, are they?" It's at once fundamentally familiar and brand-new, and it makes you flip out.
"I don't know—we just wanna be fun," says Mike bashfully. "I still love punk music and everything, and I don't know if we succeeded, but we tried not to make a run-of-the-mill punk record because there're plenty of 'em! I just don't want to rehash the same fuckin' Black Flag riff or whatever because they've already done it, and you're not gonna top it."
Of course, a lot of people will say that you can actually hear them strumming out Black Flag riffs as they talk. But Mike listens to Brazilian bossa nova and 1960s girl groups. "Today, it sounds so innocent, but back then, it was totally fuckin' rebellious and shit," he says. "I love the Shangri-Las!" Drummer Scott and bassist Lisa Banana listen to God-knows-what, and it all shambles into a soupy mess that snaps from fuzzed-out garage riffing to supersappy pop balladeering to insane, eyes-rolled-back-in-your-head shrieking. Then it gets really weird. Demand they play "Pink Tuxedo," and we'll cha-cha together, just to make the point.
"I finally decided every kind of music is good," says Mike. "But only like the top 5 percent of it. Any form of music, you can usually find something good in, but 90 percent of everything is kind of sucky."
And he's done his research. When the Bananas went on their previous (and, until this summer, only) national tour in 1995, Mike says, they played with only three good bands—he can't remember all their names—and came back in debt. So they don't leave home too often. And why should they? Their home planet of Sacramento is a sweltering swamp populated by mutants able to metabolize unadulterated alcohol and long, empty days into warped musical perfection—in other words, just this side of paradise.
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Maybe you're not yet privy to the secret history of the state capital ("Sandra, what old famous band was from here?" yells Mike to someone on the other end of the phone. "Tesla? What about the other one, like a fuckin' '70s band or something? I don't know, something crappy!"), but there are strange things afoot on those innocuous, tree-lined streets. Since the invention of the electric guitar, legions of Sacramentonians have committed their blisteringly iconoclastic visions to vinyl.
"You gotta make up your own shit, and when there is nothing else to do, it just seems more exciting," Mike says. "When you play a big city or something, there're 50 other things to do that night—people aren't mad for it!"
But the Bananas are mad for it between the alcohol and the spazziness and the low self-esteem. And sometimes, they come to visit, but not very often. Not to alarm anyone, but since they only stumble out into the real world about once every five to seven years, their next appearance should hit around 2010. By then, apes or robots will rule the Earth, and if you thought the Long Beach City Council was out to kill live music, just wait until that fascist, neo-simian, cyberregime seizes power. We'll all be fucked. But some of us will have memories of the Bananas to tide us through.
The Bananas perform with This Bike Is a Pipe Bomb, the Devil Is Electric, Toys That Kill and Providence Union at Koo's Art Caf, 1505 N. Main St., Santa Ana, (714) 648-0937; www.koos.org. Wed., 7:30 p.m. $5. All ages.