I did not know what to expect from my first Boris show. Was it going to be an endless night of droning guitars and minimal drums? Or would it be a fast-paced garage punk expedition? The event, as it turned out, was not a by-the-numbers experience. I am thankful, however, that I brought my earplugs, especially considering that I did not leave unscathed anyway. My head throbbed for nearly an hour after the Orange, Fender, and Sunn O))) amps were turned off. But, as you can imagine, it was entirely worth the pain to watch these masters of rock work their way through several musical genres.
The night began with a set by Boston’s own Clouds, who filled the opening spot left vacant by Wolves in the Throne Room before the tour started. Playing their version of classic rock-infused stoner metal, Clouds were met with a weak reaction from the packed room. Despite this lack of audience participation, the band maintained a dynamic stage presence as each member, particularly guitarist/vocalist Adam McGrath, tried to keep everyone engaged. You could tell, however, that most of the crowd was there to see Torche and Boris.
Boris + Torche + Clouds
11 Jul 2008: Middle East Downstairs Cambridge, MA
Clouds received their warmest reception for “Empires in Basements”, which opens their latest album We Are Above You. Compared to the studio version, the track sounded astoundingly better in a live setting. The heavy riffs and crushing drums came to life in a way that the record lacks. But the band’s attempts to leap from hard-hitters to their more sludgy tracks were half-hearted, particularly when compared to their contemporaries for the evening.
Hitting the stage next after a brief intermission was Torche. Despite only hearing their excellent second effort, Meanderthal, I had some high expectations for these Florida-based sludge darlings. And, after kicking things off with the classic riff from the Beatles’ “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)”, I knew Torche was not going to disappoint. The entire set felt like a slow-chugging freight train that could morph into a speeding Amtrak train at a moment’s notice. From the stoner rock anthems to the 1990s’-infused jams, every song had the crowd moshing and head-banging along.
Although only a few words were uttered in between tracks, the performance did all the necessary talking. Frontman and lead guitarist Steve Brooks sounded great (although his vocals were often difficult to hear), while guitarist Juan Montoya interacted with the crowd. Montoya was easily the most energetic of the bunch, even letting some fans assist in playing one of his solos. Bassist Jonathan Nuñez and drummer Rick Smith kept the rhythm tight, with Smith getting some help from Clouds drummer Q. As for the songs, “Grenades”, one of the band’s biggest and best tunes, sounded massive compared to its recorded counterpart, and it set the tone for the night. The same could be said for “Piranha” and the song’s heavier than heavy riffs.
After some tuning and a sound check, the headlining goliath of rock known as Boris entered the steaming hot Middle East Downstairs. Rather than begin with a barrage of noise, the trio—plus frequent collaborator/outstanding guitarist Michio Kurihara, of Ghost—began with “Flower Sun Rain”, the brooding opening track from their recent album, Smile. It was an epic way to kick off a set that banged as much as it lulled.
No one in the crowded, sweat-drenched room could have been ready for what came next. Boris put everything they had into hammering out a straight run of garage-punk anthems that included “Buzz-In”, “Laser Beam”, “Pink”, “Statement”, and “Floor Shaker”. Each and every track sounded album perfect as the audience head-banged, moshed, or simply nodded in approval to the fuzz-drenched drums and guitars that filled the air. Some fans even attempted to sing along to bassist/guitarist/vocalist Takeshi’s Japanese lyrics. The transition from “Pink” to “Statement” was especially gripping as what can only be described as the sound of spinning helicopter blades flew out of the speakers. Even if it was simply an in-between song tuning session, it was mind-blowing.
Although the rest of the band remained somewhat stoic during the set, drummer Atsuo more than made up for their reservations. Besides hitting his drums with extreme prejudice, he also screamed and provided back-up vocals. He also made sure to acknowledge the obviously excited crowd by pointing and yelling “YEAH!” numerous times, though that was eclipsed by his crowd-surfing at the end of the night.
It was then time for the final assault of noise and drone. The final quartet of brain-frying tracks started with the absolutely gorgeous “My Neighbor Satan”. Although the album version of the song contains muffled drums that are basically impossible to recreate in concert, “My Neighbor Satan” still hit breathtaking heights. The track moved seamlessly into “Ka Re Ha Te Ta Sa Ki (No One’s Grieve)”, another burner with fast-paced, heart-pounding moments that transitioned into a stunning version of “You Were Holding an Umbrella”. Kurihara had been showing off his remarkable shredding abilities all evening, but it all culminated during this track. Anyone questioning the skills of this band simply has to witness one of their songs in concert to realize the intricacies involved.
Just as he had done on “You Were Holding an Umbrella”, Kurihara simply killed it during “Untitled”, Smile‘s final track, as well as the show’s ending number. Takeshi’s booming, raunchy bass and guitar riffs bounced off the walls as Wata droned along with him. The track’s schizophrenic punk brought the night to a brooding conclusion as the show ended just as it had begun, with Atsuo beating a gong.