Boris at Brighton Music Hall, Boston MA on Saturday, May 4, 2013.
A frequent knock on the Japanese is that they are great at making an established idea better, but lousy at innovation. Boris took their name from a Melvins song, so right off the bat they were in a hole, but taking a look at their discography it’s a very tortuous path, a virtual fractal edge continuum that married drone, noise, metal, psychedelia and even a sprinkle or two of J-Pop. David Bowie and Neil Young would look on appreciatively.
To be honest, I fell off the wagon around the time of Smile; despite recruiting guitarist extraordinaire Michio Kurihara into the fold, it was a lost opportunity. After the immediate triumph of Rainbow, subsequent dalliances into the softer side of things left me unimpressed. Can anyone who was on board during Amplifier Worship or Feedbacker honestly say they like “Party Boy”? It’s like Katy Perry took over Wata’s being and farted out squiggly noises. New Album made me want to burn my copies of anything Boris-related, and that would have been a substantial financial loss.
This recent residency tour did a lot to right the ship from listing and sinking to the bottom of the Marianas Trench. In select cities, Boris would play two consecutive nights, with the first focusing on ‘the hits’ and the second taking on their experimental and drone side, culiminating in a full performance of 2005’s Flood. Calling this night “hits” is a relative concept, as you’d likely be hard pressed to even find one of the metal stations on Sirius/XM to play a song of theirs, but there are definitely some songs that die hard fans would consider canonical – “Naki Kyoku,” “Blackout,” “Just Abandoned Myself” and the second and third parts of “Feedbacker” were all skipped over.
The sonic nexus of the band is held together by the guitar interplay of Wata and Takeshi, and Takeshi’s double-necked guitar (bass and 6 string guitar) may look like a gimmick, but it’s actually a critical part of their sound, especially when they are in the trio configuration without Kurihara, as Takeshi can move effortlessly from distorted guitar blasts to anchoring the bottom end of a massive sine wave. Quibbles could be had by the exclusion of any songs from Akuma No Uta and I certainly wouldn’t rate “Statement” as a high point of their career. A fair no-brainer was the inclusion of the punkish “Pink,” off the album which Pitchfork helped sail their name into the music society; Eric Bloom may have created the term ‘stun guitar’ but this song defines it. The languid “Rainbow” had Wata picking up the scorching right-to-the-frontal-lobe guitar solo that Kurihara perfected, the dry tone just flaking axons and splitting bone effortlessly. Newer (unreleased?) songs such as “Vanilla” and “Angel” gave strong hope for the future, while the past was well represented at the end, and “Dyna-Soar” and “1970” put out a massive riff out for all to snap their necks to. Watching Wata so cooly lay down such an evil riff while barely moving was a revelation, and thanks to the band for digging back so far.
The next night was a showcase for the ambient Flood, but as it was also tagged as “experimental/drone/ambient”, they could have played any number of full-length recordings including their debut Absolutego, Mabuta No Ura, Dronevil, Sun Baked Snow Cave, or Feedbacker, which remains their true pinnacle and a total mind-fuck of a show when I was fortunate enough to see this at an All Tomorrow’s Parties festival a few years ago. Nights like this could go one of two ways…a beard-stroking/chin-scratching sort of affair, or a performance that could trascend time and space, making astral projection a real possibility. I wasn’t on the right kind of drugs for the latter, but all in all it was highly successful. Things started out well with “Huge,” a monolithic dirge that more than qualified as an amuse-bouche, albeit in super size format, for the evening.
While the cover of “Sometimes” sputtered and failed to spark, the two additional new songs (“16:47:52… and something written in Kanji that I can’t decipher) brought the moorings back, leading to the main event. They skillfully avoided the monotony of the first part by improvising a short noise section, Atsuo gesticulating wildly (he’s incapable of any other manner) to the crowd with an effects box in hand before hitting the button marked “bliss/noise.” And we’re off…Boris is capable of truly peaceful, beautiful moments and this is a prime example. Quiescence turns to turmoil eventually, Takeshi blasting out massive cone waves of distortion as he runs between bass and guitar and Atsuo takes turns beating the absolute hell of his drums via his black sticks, or turning to beat the gong like he’s a Yakuza member trying to collect owed money. Massive in all ways. Welcome back, Boris. I knew you had it in you.
Two different bands had opening duties for the weekend, with Kentucky’s Young Widows hitting hard and below the belt repeatedly. The riff-oriented bottom end was really amazingly physical, like if The Jesus Lizard had ten David Wm Sims and five Mac McNeillys on stage. The stage lighting also showed creativity, with a row of three bulbs in their cabinets above the drivers, and two orange-tinted lamps clamped to the mic stands. Every so often, at critical sonic junctures someone would trigger a switch and plunge the room into blackness, and then BLAM the lights would be back on, right in sync. An old trick, but a good one, especially as it was band-activated and not done by a bored guy at the light desk.
Doomriders pulled support duty for the second night, and they are no strangers to Boris, having toured Japan with them as well as taking two sides of the Long Hair And Tights 2×12″ split release. Leader Nate Newton may be better known as the bass player in Converge, but Doomriders channels NWOBMH with a heavy dose of Motörhead riffage and unbridled vocal rage, pushing grit right up to the front so you can’t miss it. Their new record is due out in the summer, via Deathwish, and they treated the hometown crowd to a couple of songs from it.