I can’t remember how I first heard Boris, but I fell in love right away. They’re from Japan and play very loud, very deep, very beautiful music; some of it on Tuesday evening in Vancouver, and I was there.
Boris is a trio: Atsuo on drums and vocals, Takeshi on guitars and vocals, and Wata on guitars, keyboard, and vocals; their anomalously-nonmononymic friend Michio Kurihara contributes guitar on recordings and tours.
Back Story · What happened was, on G+ I posted about how much I loved Boris’ recent Attention Please and Trevor Bramble posted back “You realize they’re coming to Vancouver?” Thanks Trevor! The Biltmore is the kind of place rock&roll should be played in: Low ceiling, low ceremony, cheap, dark, and intimate. You can bring in any camera you want and dance any way you want and step outside for a party on the sidewalk, nobody’s gonna give you grief unless you’re a griefer and the place doesn’t seem to draw ’em; they always have a couple of muscly security dudes, who always look bored.
I crowded in enough so when the last opener was done I was planted right at the front stage-right corner, which is to say within three feet of Wata.
It’s not clear whether all these pictures feature Ms Wata because she looked great, or whether it’s because she was between me and the rest of the band. I’m not complaining, I’ll stand at her corner to listen and shoot any night of the year.
The Music · Boris plays three distinct kinds of rock music: Loud fast guitar thrash, loud slow guitar noise-abstraction, and loud tuneful guitar ballads. Did I mention that it was all loud? As in compress-your-whole-body almost-unbearable better-wear-hearing-protection loud? I was up against the stage behind the front-facing PA listening to the guitar amps and monitors just like the band, rejoicing in the belly of the noise.
Of the three genres, their fast thrash is the last successful musically to my ears, because neither Atsuo nor Takeshi have the vocal edge to knife through the guitar roar the way that Neil Young or Jack White or Naoko Yamano can, nor do they practice the black-metal bark that at least blends with it. Still, the instrumental rave-ups between the verses are first-class.
The big slow noise-washes and moody slow ballady things just can’t be played any better than Boris does. It really needs to be said that these are virtuoso forms; they alternate between a loose improvisational feel and superhumanly tight ensemble parts, back and forth lots of times in any section of any song, and do it in the service of the music, not to show off.
When you’re listening to Boris, any guitar break that sounds like it might have originated on this planet is coming from Wata. The occasionally-atonal howls and crashes and screams come from Wata and Takeshi but especially friend Michio.
Visuals · The band’s visuals are great, if maybe a little schizo. Takeshi is front and center, grooving and writhing with his trademark double-neck guitar; behind him Atsuo puts out a steady flow of flashy rock-star moves.
Wata and Michio, stage right and left, hardly move at all as they deploy the huge all-enveloping roar, full of spontaneous invention and still in perfect sync. They use lotsa dry-ice smoke and it seems to work really well with the flow of the music.
Music That Matters · That’s what I like. Sure, I’ll luxuriate in a warm comfy evening with Eric Clapton or Yundi Li or Pat Metheny, but that experience is surprise-free, challenge-free; no worries that maybe they’re going too far past the edges, “outside” as the jazzbos say.
My most intense concert memories are all of music that took itself seriously and went into places that were frightening and strange, there to discover beauty. What comes to mind are the first couple of Clash tours, Louis Andriessen’s Hoketus, Patricia Barber going all Tourette’s behind her piano; also I’m old enough to remember when the whole Rock&Roll project was frightening and dangerous in and of itself.
Sasha Frere-Jones over at The New Yorker recently invested several thousand words in The Dark Arts arguing that Black Metal is, by this standard, serious: “Get past the novelty, though, and you find a level of passion and an attention to detail that make a number of mere rock bands look lazy.” Also he makes the excellent point that “You may eventually find a TV that is sufficiently large that it makes going to a movie theatre pointless, but you are never going to replicate anything like a black-metal show at home, no matter how fancy your stereo is.”
Boris’ metal isn’t black as such, but they are serious and the music will sometimes scare you. They are virtuosi; I’ve performed a certain amount of music in my day and I have no bloody idea how they keep the stops and starts and fast turns and explosions all in perfect sync.
I smiled as I walked home in the rain.
Photo Notes · I jammed the Sigma 30mm f1.4 on the Pentax K-5 and locked the ISO to 6400 and let the autopilot handle the rest. My only gripe is that the camera struggled with the contrast between the dark backgrounds and on quite a few shots blew out Wata’s rather-pale brilliantly-lit face. Lightroom’s color sliders, which allow you to subtract that one hot orange spotlight somewhat back out, were tremendously helpful.
But on balance I think the camera did really pretty well in a demanding situation.