As a genre tag, "metal" has always perplexed me. There are so many different subgenres — doom, sludge, black, stoner, death — that I generally avoid the whole mess of it. If I had to label the bands I saw August 2 at the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco, I’d say they were metal bands for people who don’t normally enjoy that sort of thing.
Torche, from Miami, has all the trappings of a metal band. The musicians throw up the horns, play tight Sabbath-on-horse-tranquilizer riffs and have epic breakdowns. But it’s more than a formula. Their songs have hooks, and all of them hover around the pop-standard three-minutes. And it seems to be accessible without losing any perceived “authenticity,” which maybe be why they’re catching on with the Pitchfork set.
The great Japanese band Boris was a marked contrast. From Michio Kurihara’s guitar-god poses and Nagata’s black dreads and sweaty, shaved bare chest to Wata’s stoic solos and subdued vocals and Takeshi’s double-necked thrashing, Boris looked almost like a Japanese Led Zeppelin. Their music was much more varied than Torche’s — they’d switch from drone to a wailing wall of noise and then to sixth gear (thanks, in part, to their excellent sound man), where they would riff at top speed before skipping a beat and screaming loud enough to make my intestines drop a few inches and my neck spasm. It’s impossible not to be enthralled by their ability to simultaneously execute three-part harmonies and rhythms that make you want to start two-stepping.
Boris has a well-earned reputation as a band not to be missed live, as well as one you never want to take your eyes off once you’re actually in the audience. They offer too many surprises, too many jolting buzzsaw Kurihara solos and energizing leaps from Nagata (he’d jump up, point his drumstick menacingly at the audience while still stomping on his bass drum, scream into his headset and fall back down to unleash a massive fill). From ambient sections to crescendos of shredding, Boris covered their entire oeuvre in an hour-long set that felt like just ten minutes.
The night confirmed one thing: Genre tags be damned. Anyone who’s interested in witnessing an unforgetable live show should check out Torche and Boris.