Boris and Torche Melt Vancouver
On July 30, Boris hit a mid-sized Vancouver bar called Richards On Richards. You should know for next time: before you head to a Boris show, you'd better square up with the universe. There's no nine-foot skinhead to boot your face in the moshpit, there's nobody in the bathroom doing coke off a bowie knife -- but you could still get hurt. It's those ultra-low frequencies, back and forth between your nervous system and bowels, until your spine explodes and paints the back wall pink. So square up first. I'm talking prayer bowls and mantras, I'm talking incense -- but shove the smouldering incense cones right into your eardrums, for Satan's sake. Sandalwood or patchouli earplugs. This is metal here, true metal, no matter how much attention the drummer pays to his huge silver gong.
To say it without so much nonsense: Boris was a pretty trippy time, but first we should mention the courageous opening bands. Lair Of The Minotaur played first, and they seemed pretty unimpressive, but maybe I just wasn't in the mood. From the audience reaction, few were -- and LOTM couldn't have been inspired to see only six or seven guys leaning against the lip of the stage, swishing their heads half-heartedly. (The only one who was really into it proved to be the bassist from Torche, who played next.)
LOTM offered up a speedy, sludgy take on some huge Venom-inspired riffs, playing a varied selection of old reliables like “Wolf” and “Demon Serpent,” as well as a thrashy take on their latest album's title track, “War Metal Battle Master.” Not a bad performance, but they weren't an appropriate opening act for Boris, who stand for a whole different kind of heavy. They were a mosher's band, and it just wasn't a mosher's show.
Booking Torche made a lot more sense. I hadn't heard them before the show, but there's a lot of hype around their latest LP, “Meanderthal,” and it's sure deserved. (As if the lead guitarist's meaty handlebar moustache couldn't generate enough buzz on its own.) Torche served us fuzzy, careening low-end boogies with weirdly heartfelt melodies inside. Sort of like the Melvins, or gutter-grunge innovators Flipper, but more upbeat than either. Happy doom metal: shouldn't that be a contradiction? Either way, their energetic set was a riot to watch, and double the riot to hear, flipping between subtle psychedelic shimmers and balls-to-the-wall biker metal.
By the end of Torche, the venue was packed, and the smoke machine in the back of the room was belching at random all through Boris' setup. All through the opening acts, Boris' drumkit was just hanging out on a dais at the back of the stage -- the bass drum and toms are salmon-pink, and completely transparent. When they finished setting up Boris' many amps (Sunn, Ampeg, Fender, Marshall, and Orange) the blacklights cut in, and the drums lit up in this wild, luminous orange -- the exact same color as the Orange amps. It blew my mind at the time, I can assure you.
Then there's Boris. Two poker-faced, ridiculously fashionable young Japanese folks, Wata and Takeshi -- on guitar and doublenecked guitarbass, respectively -- and their drummer Atsuo, who's a stone-cold madman. He'd probably weigh about 65 pounds after a cheesecake-eating contest, you can see every one of his ribs, and he's wearing these luminous white silk slacks and matching jacket, open at the chest. He looks like some kind of afterlife lounge singer.
And there's this older guy off in the shadows, noodling with guitar distortion while they're tuning up. His name is Michio Kurihara; as well as contributing guitar to three tracks on their latest LP, “Smile,” he played with Boris on a recent album called “Rainbow,” which is pretty mellow, but a definite headmelter. Nobody I talked to knew he'd be coming, but his presence turned a great show into an unbelievable one.
After Takeshi wished us goodnight -- Boris don't speak very much English -- they opened with “Flower Sun Rain” from their new album. Kind of a gentle song, but it got everybody's attention in a flash: six or seven hundred people all staring forward slack-jawed. Even in their softer moments, Boris play with complete assertion and focus. It was a breathtaking show from the first ten seconds.
After “Flower Sun Rain” they dug into “Buzz-In,” the second song on “Smile”. A way more powerful tune, and twice as heavy live, with Michio laying down some scorching, distorted feedback. After that came four more crazy-high-energy cuts from “Smile” and “Pink,” suffocating us in dense psychedelic noise. Long-time guitarist Wata traded her effects-heavy guitar squiggles with Michio's, while bassist Takeshi sprinted his fingers up and down all ten strings of his doubleneck, demonstrating he's just as adept with Les Claypool-esque slap-funk as with bottom-heavy sludge and drones.
Through it all, drummer Atsuo was the only center of attention. While the other three stared at the floor, throttling their axes, he screamed like a banshee and never stopped moving. After every song, he jumped up and gestured crazily with his sticks, then swept the crowd with rocker-god devil horns. He might have thought he was playing to a crowd of eighty thousand. Hell, most of the time, I thought so too.
When they dropped the volume again for “Rainbow,” ten percent of the crowd had disappeared, and everyone else was swaying back and forth in a catatonic trance. Wata contributed her mellow, haunting vocals while Michio's guitar work alternated between bubbling noises and sudden chainsaw assault.
But my favourite moment came again from “Smile:” the tonguebendingly titled “Ka Re Ha Te Ta Sa Ki.” Five minutes of chiming, ticking soft guitar and blissed-out shoegaze vocals from Takeshi -- then Michio comes in with an e-Bow solo, pulling noises from his guitar that sound like two violins at once. Then the whole band ripped into the song's crescendo, crushingly heavy tides of psychedelic feedback. Pretty much what Hendrix's ghost heard while God and Beelzebub were ripping him down the middle.
Halfway through the punishing, drone-heavy final song, Atsuo jumped off his stool, stood on his bass drum, shook his ass a little, and vaulted into the crowd. I helped catch him and pass him around -- he weighed about as much as an acid tab. Then he got back up on stage, bowed, and just disappeared into the back. The other three gave us a ten-minute drumless outro for encore, Godzilla-sized riffs rippling off into silence.
I don't know where they keep all that true metal. But the future of this music belongs to three skinny Japanese hipsters with really nice hair. Quit your job. Follow Boris around in a travelling shanty town. And when your brain gives out for good, we'll burn some incense on you.
1. Flower Sun Rain
3. Laser Beam
6. Floor Shaker
8. My Neighbour Satan
9. Ka Re Ha Te Ta Sa Ki
10. You were Holding An Umbrella
11. (nameless bonus track from “Smile”)
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