May 18 & 19, 2013
Every sound that they make is beautiful. Boris conjures up fields of butterlies and exudes the emotions of the suicidally depressed. They drift from standard rock rhythms, to ambient, to syncopated moments of silence, before drop-tuned rebirths. On night one of a two evening affair, The Crocodile was sold-out and packed with a crowd of loyals, along with those who signed up for a well-priced education. The band came out and did their own tuning and sound check without speaking, before returning to the stage in a shroud of smoke machine fog, a few minutes later. Then, from their Orange and Sunn equipment, came forth some of the most ridiculously gorgeous guitar tones, recalling both memories of the past and visions of the future. This show was promoted as “Boris performing ‘All Time Classics” with the band scheduled to perform Flood, their single-track, 1-hour-and-10-minute release from 2000, the following night. A deluge of sound, peppered with stunning guitar solos, Flood begins soft and clean, with looped guitar; reaches a sludgy depth of distorted noise and repetitive bass; finishing with transitory gong vibrations. During this second evening, a much more thoughtful and calm audience would see an exploratory Boris, using E-bows and feedback; reserved, yet, obviously, virtuosic.
When telling people that I was going to see Boris, they usually had no clue that I was speaking about a drone-metal band from Tokyo. For seventeen years the group has been releasing albums and all three of the current members have been in the band since its inception. They have amassed a great cult following, but remain little known outside of this circle. Describing Boris to the uninitiated is a tall task; “they’re pretty psychedelic, krautrock-ish, but not really at all. They’re heavy–really heavy–and they have this sort of Japanese uniqueness and precision.” They are most definitely heavy, and with the trio completely in synch with one another, they navigate deep distortion and feedback calmly, with slight glances utilized as cues to cut and chisel songs into inimitable live versions.
Boris took their name from the opening track on the Melvins’ 1991 album, Bullhead; the influence is unmistakable. Another obvious influence is stoner-rock pioneers Sleep, who infamously released an hour-long, single-track album of their own. The Japanese trio’s heavy and less experimental tracks often parallel the Melvins with slow guitar lines, punctuated at the end by vibrato holds, before repeating. Their guitar solos range in tone from Eddie Hazel to Robert Fripp to Tony Iommi, yet they do not seem to just be taking sounds that they like and making a mega-mélange. Instead, they are putting together their own ride, their own reality, into which you cannot help but become absorbed into their “weirdness.” In part, this is due to their mystique on stage. Lead guitarist, Wata shows next to no expression; the double-neck toting rhythm guitarist/bassist, Takeshi, only slightly more. The drummer, Atsuo, however, yearningly looks upward with eye-lined eyes, or right into the crowd with his drumsticks raised, shouting, “Yea!” or even an ol’ Ramones, “1,2,3,4!” He is the enlivening energy that adds layers and meaning to the ambiguous sounds, and raw power to the punk numbers. On stage, the band doesn’t talk much, but it is not due to their limited English; they are here to play music. At one point, however, Atsuo did talk about how the city was a special place for the group, who was listening to Seattle rock, across the Pacific, before their inception, and the release of their first album, Absolutego, in 1996.
The idea behind the back-to-back shows was that they would play traditionally structured songs on the first evening, and more drone styles the second. For such a varied band as Boris, it is great to have a two-night affair. It allowed for the performers to craft more elegant set lists, especially for the second night. During the initial evening, Wata had already shown off her make-the-crowd-go-wild, fuzzed-out frenetic guitar work. On the following night, she ably delved into unusual tones and drawn-out repetition, no longer required to display her signature metal solos. A couple of times, I thought to myself that I wanted the Wata from the previous night to come back (and she did, in a more withdrawn fashion), but considering the manner in which they had designed the set list, it wouldn’t have made sense. In a way, that first show allowed me to more openly digest the experimental tracks, without any concern or need for “classic Boris.” The aforementioned eye-lined heartbreaker, Atsuo, yelled along with the music on night one, and cried along with it on night two. His strength is diversification–even in classically structured songs, he rarely plays the same beat for too long, nor similar fills.
I found the “All Time Classics” set to have sheer enjoyment, while, during the second night, I was deeply moved in different emotional directions; all subtle, none purely “enjoyable.” Though “Flood,” at the end of the set, was incredible, the song “冥合,” is the one that I found to be the most original and uniquely “Boris” effort of the whole weekend. For me, it expresses unexplainable sadness, building and building into more impenetrability, while some of Wata’s finest guitar work peeks through. The piece highlights the trio’s best quality, blending disparate song parts into oneness, without any contrived, or forced feeling. It made me think, over and over, “pain exists.” I don’t know why, but this sentiment lasted throughout the shifting anthem–over tremolo picked distortion; over clean chords and vocals; over deliberate, slow, and melodic guitar parts, and chaotic drumming. It is such a beautifully held together work of many parts, that those same two words remained in my head throughout its entirely. The silence and stillness of the crowd, the short hesitation after the song finished, and the huge roar of approval, signified how deep everyone was listening to them throughout. Deep.
Boris Performing “All Time Classics” – May 18th
Boris Performing “Flood” – May 19th