Boris hit Manchester hard and Getintothis’ Michael Edward was stunned.
There are many bands that music fans don’t expect they’ll ever get the chance to see. Sometimes it’s because their reuniting seems beyond all likelihood, like Fugazi or Black Flag. More often than not it’s because when their tours are announced they never seem to come near the U.K.
We were lucky enough to witness Boredoms perform with 6 drummers, 4 guitarists and 88 cymbal players at the Barbican Centre a while ago, which was a moment of otherworldly bliss that we never thought we’d be afforded.
We’ve essentially come to terms with the fact that we’ll probably never see Melt-Banana live. Until recently it seemed that Boris would reside on that melancholic wish list, consigned to Youtube videos and imaginations of sweaty rooms as their records play, but lo and behold, they’ve embarked on an extensive world tour for the 10th anniversary of their stunningly visceral 2006 record Pink, playing it in its entirety, with the order changed and other material spliced in.
For the uninitiated, Boris are a Japanese band who started out their career playing viciously heavy drone metal before Sunn O))) became the conventionally accepted historical successors to Earth. Named after the Melvins song of the same name, over their 20 plus year career they have since spanned a dizzying list of genres including Kyuss style stoner rock, glacial post rock, psychedelia, noise rock, shoegaze, hardcore punk, crust punk, J-Pop, ambient, harsh noise and dream pop.
Sometimes all of these elements will occur on the same album, but often they’ll dedicate themselves to a concept an album at a time, and at an absurdly prolific rate. Since 1996 they’ve released 24 solo LPs, 8 EPs, 2 live albums, 5 LPs and an EP in collaboration with Merzbow, an LP with Sunn O))),an LP with Ghost (not the one with the fake pope) guitarist Michio Kurihara, and an EP with The Cult‘s Ian Astbury. That’s 43 releases in 20 years. They’re also a walking paradox in terms of what you might expect to garner critical acclaim these days. Despite their experimental bent, they’re also relics of rock’s dinosaurs, enjoying the visceral stupidity of the riff, playing double neck guitars and even having the audacity to take a gong on tour with them. They’re somewhat emblematic of Japanese post-war culture on general, taking Western culture that’s gone before and twisting it into exaggerated and insane levels, breathing new life into it. But that’s enough of the Wikipedia entry, let’s talk gig.
The first thing to notice upon entering the venue is the band’s equipment.
Lead guitarist Wata’s rig is more than twice her size, a marvellously excessive L shaped stack of 3 huge Orange amps. Behind Atsuo’s drum kit sits a three foot wide gong. Takeshi wields a double neck, one a bass guitar and the other a downtuned 6 string. He also boasts three stacks of amps.
As they emerge on stage we insert our earplugs in anticipation. They open with the doom dirge of Blackout, which despite its heaviness, proves to be a welcome and necessary adjustment before the high octane onslaught to follow.
The proceeding run of Pink, Woman on Screen and Nothing Special launches the Manchester audience into a frenzy, and the space in front of the stage becomes established as the perpetual moshing area for those brave enough. The material benefits greatly from the fantastic sound in the Sound Control loft, removing the harshness of Pink’s original mix and replacing it with pure heft. The band perform with vitriol, seemingly relishing in the opportunity to revisit old material. Everything is played faithfully to the record, though the songs are such breakneck compositions that they retain their feel of spontaneity. Wata’s guitar solos are numerous and always, for want of a better word, facemelting. They start at the level other guitar solos would peak at, then somehow go higher, using her wah pedal in a unique way to create animalistic yelps.
Mid set they detour from the Pink material into an almost danceable stoner rock jam before stabbing that in the back with an excursion into a crushing noisy drone. Wata and Takeshi then produce a moment of brilliance as they tune their guitars down in tandem, amps still thundering, and the audience yelps with delight as the frequencies descend into the skeleton shattering realm. The man in the Sunn O))) shirt next to us smiles. Atuso pounds on the gong, looking to the audience between each strike in a display of classic rock showmanship.
As the last gong strike rings out, the band launch into Pink’s second half, with the audience churning like a storm-whipped sea at the disco-noise riff of Electric, singing the riff to Afterburner, and flailing dangerously to an incredible rendition of Pseudo-Bread, yet when the band barrel into the albums 18 minute thrash-doom-punk-drone-noise-opus closer Just Abandoned Myself the show becomes transcendent. The pace is absolutely unrelenting. We would defy anyone not to be given a near heart attack by its sheer exhilaration.
As it progresses and the drums step into half time, resting in an almost trip hop groove,Wata produces an ebow and conjures forth a layered and looped wall of overlapping and interlocking lines of feedback. The result is like Steve Reich composing for My Bloody Valentine and as the drums drop out leaving only that solid wall of sound we disappear to somewhere else entirely. After the drone subsides it feels if nothing could follow, yet the band play the instantly recognisable first notes of glacial Pink opener Farewell. The guy in the SunnO))) shirt now looks close to tears. As it works its way steadily to a lofty peak, the hairs on our arms stand up. It was an absolutely stunning ending.
After chants of ‘BORIS! BORIS!’ the band remerges to play once more. Atuso humbly thanks the crowd for welcoming them back for an encore, and after faking us out with a sample from their 70 minute post-rock masterpiece Flood, they launch into Ibitsu from Akuma No Uta, giving one last chance to bang heads and thrash around like you’re trying to destroy the stock of a china shop.
This was a perfectly paced show, preformed masterfully that at its best, reached for the Gods, yet managed to forgo any pretentiousness, operating on that base idiot level that makes rock music so compelling in the first place.
Boris are the perfect antidote to both self-serious experimental bands and too cool for school indie (yawn), proof that you can combine the ridiculousness that killed grunge with the rawness that it popularised, and that you can bend minds just as well with a gratuitous foot on the monitor guitar solo as a towering post-rock crescendo. More bands should buy gongs and double neck guitars.