Boris at the Bluebird Theater
Work kept me late and I arrived at Bluebird Theatre well after doors. After some haggling for a photo pass, I went inside to hear the last three or four songs of Pallbearer.
Pallbearer, a four-piece from Arkansas, can loosely be categorized as doom metal, though they have distinct flourishes of prog rock and psychedelia sprinkled amongst their spacious songs. The band had a modest set up with the drummer front and center and no fancy lights or fog machines for atmosphere. What they lack in bravado on stage, they make up for in their precise live interpretation of their recorded output. To say that a doom metal band has a triumphant sound seems counterintuitive to the smoked-out, often depraved lyrics heard from contemporaries.
Vocalist and guitarist Brett Campbell’s voice is crystal clear on record, and though his range didn’t come through quite as convincingly at the Bluebird, the sparseness of the music allowed it to come through just fine. That Pallbearer is on tour with Boris is no surprise. Both bands deal in atmospheric, melodious metal and draw from several genres. Neither can be classified as a punishing, nihilistic listen, though both blow the doors off the venue with their aural heft. I only wish that I had been present for the full set!
Boris arrived as any normal band would, and with their stage equipment already set up before entry, they just needed to tune their instruments. Atsuo, Boris’ drummer and vocalist, appeared after an ovation of applause. Using a headset mic allows him the freedom to often yelp “Yeah!” and other exaltations to the crowd. He threw his hands up, ran behind his drum set and cued the start of their set with some ceremonial smashes of his gong mallet.
About as hard to pin to a style as any band, Boris incorporate noise, drone, Sabbath psychadelic metal and with their newest album, aptly entitled New Album, driving electronica pop. To keep these various strands of sound together in a live setting, both Wata and Takeshi use over a dozen pedal effects and other devices. They began the set with many shots of fog and droning overtures and gentle ambient numbers to lull the audience into their world.
The first sign of an atmospheric change came from Wata, who while modest on stage, is an absolute shredder. Many of the wide open solos on their numerous records are courtesy of her, as Takeshi uses his double headed guitar/bass to accompany with the bassline. Using her stack of Orange amps and Matamp head, a favored set-up of contemporaries Sleep and High on Fire, her sound pierced the theatre. While Wata’s vocals are featured prominently on the new record, Takeshi sang all but one song this evening. For whatever reason, they decided to forego performing many of the bubbly songs from this newest album.
As a requirement of the genre, many metal bands have impeccable timing, though Boris stand out in that they are often mixing songs from their entire catalogue and thus needing to switch between grating and melodic, calm and explosive, metallic and saccharine. No other band that I’ve seen has done so with such effortlessness. As quoted in interviews, Atsuo states explicitly that Boris doesn’t mind wandering far from the path of what most might suggest metal represents. For some, the denial of a dedication to a genre might be alienating, but with such a diverse crowd as at this show, I think otherwise. It’s refreshing to see a modest take on a genre known for its blistering rhythms and bleeding machismo. That an unassuming Japanese band has represented its own strand of heavy metal for over 15 years is a testament to their abilities.
However, for a large chunk of the show, Boris appealed to the metal diehards. As far as I could discern, they played tracks from Flood, Heavy Rocks, Akuma No Uta, and Pink. These modern classics pit the sounds of Motörhead, Black Sabbath, Earth, and Sleep against each other allowing the audience to roller coaster through a Cliff’s Notes of important moments in heavy metal history. Atsuo closes the show with a number of cymbal rides and rolls on his enormous drum kit followed by, yes of course, some smashes of the gong.