Boris is a band that has crept up on me over the years. At first, way back when, I was relatively content to own only one or two of their releases, but lately, I’ve been on a bit of a Boris buying spree. This made it the perfect time to see them on stage again. I’ve seen them twice before, once at the Great American Music Hall and once at their in-store performance at Amoeba Records in Berkeley. Both times they put on a great show. The record store one was especially fun because their performance was so over-the-top for an afternoon appearance amongst the jazz records in the side room at Amoeba.
Due to Jeanine’s work schedule, we left the South Bay a bit late, and due to the normal difficulty in finding parking on the streets near the Independent, we were made even later. I finally managed to squeeze my car into a barely big enough space up a hill several blocks away, and we still managed to make it to the venue to catch a big chunk of opening band Marriages’ set.
The only thing I knew about Marriages beforehand was that the band featured one of the guys from Red Sparowes (Greg Burns, as it turns out), and I had intentionally not spent too much time researching them because I was aware that I might miss their set, and I didn’t want to end up kicking myself for missing a band that I was looking forward to seeing. Twisted logic, perhaps, but there you go...
Because of my ignorance, I found myself more than pleasantly surprised by the band. They’re a three piece, featuring the aforementioned Greg Burns on bass, alongside guitarist/vocalist Emma Ruth Rundle and drummer Andrew Clinco.
The band play heavy, spaced-out rock music with Rundle’s powerful, emotive vocals being the initial focal point for me. One could throw in the terms “psych rock” or even “experimental rock” and they might work too. The interplay of the guitar and bass soon caught my attention as well, not to mention Clinco’s powerful, almost tribal sounding beats. Reading back over this description I find it lacking though. Let me try again… The band successfully created miniature soundworlds for me, where Rundle’s guitar notes sometimes shivered in beautiful isolation before being pulled back into the stream of song. Burns often played his bass like a lead instrument. Clinco sometimes appeared to be punishing his kit, so hard did he hit. Rundle’s vocals were full-bodied enough to impress on their own, so when clothed in song, the effect was mesmerizing. I can’t comment on individual songs or song titles yet because I haven’t found time to listen to the cd I picked up between bands, but after reading through their web page, it looks like the majority of the songs they’re playing on this tour are from their forthcoming album. Good stuff.
Between bands, I spent too much at the merch table. That’s not too surprising though, and there was a pretty wide price range between the cheapest and most expensive items. Some of the CDs were on sale for a mere $10.00, but there was some vinyl in the $35.00 to $45.00 range, and the Archive triple CD sets were $65.00. One of the shirts appeared to have the Grumpy Cat on it. Strange.
It took Boris awhile to finally appear on stage, and when the intro music finally started, the capacity (or nearly so) crowd erupted in cheers. The smoke machine periodically vomited out white, roiling haze, and the Independent’s impressive stage lights illuminated the band in cold, blue light. They kicked off the set with Melody, the first track from their impressive new album, “Noise”. The song, like many others on the new album, successfully combines ultra-heavy riffing with a weird, drifting indie-pop vibe. In response, at least a few audience members were producing their own smoke, which is never surprising at this sort of event.
This is the first time I’ve seen the band as a three piece, which is kind of funny because for all intents and purposes, they’ve always been a trio. The previous two times I’d seen them, guitarist Michio Kurihara (Ghost, etc.) was also present. This show ended up being so good that, as much as I like Michio Kurihara, I didn’t find myself missing him at all.
Throughout the set, Takeshi’s melodic vocals served as a serene counterpoint to the gritty, downtuned riffs. Guitarist Wata and drummer Atsuo also occasionally sang. Takeshi was playing a double-necked instrument, featuring one guitar neck and one bass neck, but there was no diminishing of the heaviness when he wasn’t playing bass.
As could be expected, the majority of the set was comprised of songs from the new album. That’s fine by me though, because the new album is excellent. Heavy Rain, my favorite track on the album, especially made me smile. Wata’s haunting vocals combined with the absolutely crushing heaviness of the slow motion riffing is a delight to hear live. The song has it all, from shimmering beauty to haunting heaviness.
The last song was a bit of a surprise. The massive, vibrating drone of Vomitself, from 1998’s “Amplifier Worship”, was dusted off and used as a bludgeon against the unsuspecting audience. Somewhere back in the fog, Atsuo hammered on his gong, and I think he was also responsible for generating the Merzbow-like noise that accompanied the guitar drone. Then, he arrived at the front of the stage, did a slow motion fall into the front row, and crowd-surfed all the way to the rear of the venue and back again. That’s rock’n’roll for you.
Check out the entire set list here. It looks like they’ve been doing pretty much the same set at each stop on the tour, although a quick scan through the set lists from previous dates reveal that sometimes Cosmos was left out. Lucky us for getting it then.
Best Boris show yet.