With Earth and Shitstorm
Monday, July 25, 2016
Mother Earth and Father Boris sharing the same stage: It’s hard to imagine a better soundtrack for the birth of a mountain, or even a planet. And while neither of these appeared within the walls of Trees last night, that might just be because they appeared in some far-flung place instead. Employees of NASA would do well to consider Boris’ current U.S. tour if they should find themselves in needing to explain any interstellar anomalies which might appear in the coming weeks.
Boris are a Japanese metal trio which defies categorization. Each album is a kind of microcosm, a musical biome with its own flora, fauna and weather patterns. The only common denominator is Heaviness. (You know when a band has a $300 fuzz pedal available for sale at the merch table that they’re serious about low frequencies.)
It makes sense, then, to tour with songs from only one album at a time, as Boris is doing this summer: They know their listeners want to experience one of these microcosms in its fully fleshed-out form. For this tour, the album in question is 2006’s Pink, their breakthrough album. It’s possibly their heaviest, a contender for their noisiest and almost certainly their fastest. It starts noise rock (think Japanese Lightning Bolt) and ends doomgaze (think Jesu) with a few turns in between, the whole thing shot through with a darkly psychedelic sensibility.
However uniquely suited to live album performances Boris may be, though, playing an album through is still a bold gesture, especially for one with a discography as large as Boris’ – it’s only the province of bands with a truly cultish devotion, like Swans or Weezer. But Boris is exactly such a band. (Remember that chunk of Josh Baish's ear that was displayed on the wall at Rubber Gloves? It was bitten off at a Boris show.)
For a Monday night concert, much less one featuring a Japanese metal band, the audience's devotion was palpable. There was a line of about 20 people at the merch table within a half hour of the doors opening. “Do you take debit?” asked one fan, seriously eyeing that fuzz pedal. Next were the ubiquitous Russian Circles and Sleep shirts. A few audience members mentioned that they came out despite a looming early morning shift. At least one person made the pilgrimage from Georgia.
But that does nothing to prepare you for the force of Boris, live and in the flesh. Once they hit the stage, they were impossibly loud, disorienting and ecstatic. It’s something like being in a sensory deprivation tank – though it’s probably more accurate to call it a sensory saturation tank. Suppose someone came along and placed a massive, cranked, overdriven, fuzzed-out Orange amplifier stack speaker-side-down over the mouth of a well you’re at the bottom of – that’s what it was like at the stage’s edge of Boris’ set last night. Blinded by the fog machine and cocooned in pure sound, the experience verged on out-of-body.
That’s not to say they took themselves too seriously, though. Atsuo, the drummer, was a bit of a ham, really milking his massive gong hits and occasionally standing to point dramatically at the audience. He wore eye makeup and a pop-star headset microphone, and frequently made silly faces. He was comic relief to guitarist Wata and double-neck-wielding guitarist/bassist Takeshi, who were largely stoic.
These antics were also part of the theatre of the ritual. For the show, above all, was a communion between Boris and their followers, elevated to the pitch of a fundamentalist frenzy.
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If Boris were a volcano, then openers Earth were the lava flowing through. In fact, it was hard not to think of Monday night as a double bill. Led by Dylan Carlson, a former roommate of Kurt Cobain’s, Earth is the grandfather-figure in the family tree of doom and drone metal. As Carlson sardonically put it last night, “Never thought I would make it this far. A lot of people owe me money. Though most of them are dead.”
Their molten slabs of guitar sound rolled over the edge of the stage like lava flecked with shards of feedback. It seemed impossible that only two guitars and a drum set should produce such a monolithic sound. The songs (mostly material from Pentastar, Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light and The Bees Made Honey in the Lion's Skull) with their dirge-like tempos and architectonic structures, sounded like music for giants — proof that giants that stride the earth.