Boris: A review

Culture Curmudgeon

(Photo from Boris Facebook page)

Wata and Takeshi don’t have guitar techs to help them tune their instruments so they walked onto the stage a few minutes before their show was about to start at Washington D.C.’s 9:30 Club and did it on their own.

Ahmad Coo is a producer and copy editor for the Global Business America show on CCTV America. His analysis represents his views alone.Culture Curmudgeon Ahmad Coo

If you saw them on the street and didn’t know who they were, they wouldn’t even be noticeable. But the venue was packed with Boris fans, and they got really excited seeing the band perform such a mundane act.

The crowd’s cheers and screams of joy didn’t seem to have any effect on the pair who make up two-thirds of Japan’s most well-known experimental metal band.

They floated towards their axes like two phantoms. They were inscrutable as they picked up their guitars and started tuning. They were there for five minutes alternating between strumming and adjusting their strings.

There’s something about how these two prepare that recalls the classic samurai movies. With that concentration, they could have been sharpening swords before a major bloodbath.

I’ve seen Boris several times in the last decade or so, and they’ve never, ever let me walk out of a venue without my heart soaring and ears ringing. They’re probably the loudest band I’ve ever watched and listened to this side of Metallica.

But it would be wrong to classify them as a heavy metal band- though there’s definitely influence from that genre. As pretentious as this may sound, Boris defies any sort of classification.

They’ve been around since the early 1990s and their music has constantly changed. While some songs are straight up rock ’n’ roll, others were what most listeners would consider to be noise and I consider to be amazing compositions of walls of sound.

I think some magazine writer or really pretentious music critic came up with the term “drone rock” because some of Boris’ songs are built on electric guitar noise that drones on and on and on and on. They’ve also been called “psych rock” and “post rock” — descriptions meant more to confound than explain. Some of these songs are really long, and if you’re listening to them on your headphones, I wouldn’t be surprised if you get some hearing loss over an extended period of time.

On this tour, Boris was playing the entire “Pink” album in order of its track listing. “Pink” is to Boris to what the White Album was for the Beatles. It’s my favorite because there are no throwaway songs. Every track builds on the every successive track — from the majesty of the opener “Farewell” to the hard driving “Just Abandoned Myself”.

The album was released a decade ago and I remember downloading it to my iPod (remember those weird devices kids?). Needless to say, I listened to it until my ears bled (actually it was my nose that bled, but that’s another story).

Final Boris 1

I’ve always been amazed that such a big, sometimes overwhelming, sound comes from a mere trio. Nirvana was also a trio but they sound like the Wiggles next to Boris. (Sorry Dave, you seem like a swell guy but Boris is even louder, therefore better. They’re also way better than your precious Foo Fighters (I know, I know, I can’t compare the two bands because they’re from different genres, but still, Boris rocks harder and longer than any of your bands)).

I hate to carry on comparing Dave Grohl to Boris, but in terms of drumming for rock ’n’ roll, Atsuo (the third member of the trio) is far superior (yes, I also know Dave doesn’t play the drums anymore, but I’m just comparing their drumming chops). He’s very slight and probably isn’t much more than 150 pounds. But he’s fast — and with speed comes power. The drums just sound a bit louder when he’s banging on them.

Anyone who cares to know me knows that I have civilizational envy when it comes to Japan. I love so many aspects of its culture, from its anime to its approach to food to music. One thing I’ve always said is that Japanese culture is one that thrives on fetishizing everything. It doesn’t matter what it is, whether it be polka music, paper-clip collecting, or Pez dispensers, the Japanese will obsess, study, and devote their lives to it.

Boris is no different.

Their sound has been constantly evolving and it’s probably because they’re constantly experimenting with the way they put sound and song together. Sometimes their songs can be very conventional and at other times, they can be musical experiments meant to come up with something that I can best describe as ‘sonic assaults’.

Final Boris 2

Boris is best when they’re just plain rocking out. They have a pretty powerful sound, even if you’re just listening to their recordings. But their live sound makes their recorded versions sound stripped.

As testament to their intensity, the crowds at the 9:30 Club here were doing something I hadn’t seen in quite a while. There was a pretty sizable mosh pit a few feet away from the stage and people were going absolutely nuts.

A dozen men were throwing themselves at others at frightening velocities. I thought a fist fight was going to break out but I realized that’s never happened during a Boris concert. Fans of the band are usually pretty friendly even if they’re beating each other up through dance. Everyone in that mosh pit had smiles on their faces. At the end of the concert, I saw the moshers all high-five each other and hug.

I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve seen Boris, probably four or six because I think have the same number of shirts I’ve bought at their shows.

I think I’ll never stop going to their live concerts even if it means risking hearing loss. And it’s because of a very simple reason: Boris will never, ever tire of making new music.

I always look forward to hearing their latest sonic experiments regardless of whether they’re good or not. That’s the biggest difference between Boris and their hard-rocking peers. What I find most dismaying is some rock ’n’ roll outfits have turned into their own tribute bands (I’m talking to you and your jurassic mates, Mick Jagger!), content in playing their hits year in and year out.

The best way to understand my passion for Boris is to see them live offering a punishing extravaganza of rock ’n’ roll greatness built on a two-guitar attack, droning noise, and the incomparable manic drumming of Atsuo.