Great American Music Hall, San Francisco
August 26, 2010
This bill almost made me do a spit take when it was announced; Boris with Red Sparowes?! It seemed like an odd combination to me, especially since Red Sparowes have headlined this venue on their own in the past. However, it made more sense once the bands hit the stage. Prior to the show Johnny and I met up with Joey Acid King, Rafa Black Cobra, and Ref for a pre-show drink at The Homestead. Then we few, we happy few, bounced over to the venue.
A couple of years ago, I was really into the Red Sparowes and I'd seen them a couple of times when they supported Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds in S.F.. For the newbies: Red Sparowes play instrumentals accompanied by artful video montages projected on a large onstage screen that's set up above and behind them. We were still outside waiting in the Will Call line at 9:45pm as the band started their set. After grabbing a beer I settled into watching their performance and, while it was good, I had to admit that I'm not in the same head space that I was a couple of years ago when I was ga-ga about them. Because of the way they perform, Red Sparowes are a band that engages an audience in a passive aggressive way.... and I wanted a band to engage me and not a multi-media presentation. However, I will say that the Red Sparows / Boris bill made more sense in person than it initially did on paper; they both create sonic paths that can be profound at times. However, with Red Sparowes, I didn't feel like being "shown" their path via video... I wanted to interpret my own path tonight.
People in Umlaut's circle seem to either love or hate Boris. There are those who simply label them as Melvins clones (Well, they did take their name from a Melvins song...) and there are those like me who revel in their eclectic brand of volume. Me love Boris long time.
The Japanese construct a wall of cerebral volume that sometimes comes out of nowhere. At times their set was so quiet you could hear a pin drop... and then from out of the smoke and darkness a riptide of volume knocked my brain sideways. Onstage the core trio of Takeshi (vox + double neck bass / guitar), Wata (Les Paul + vox), and Atsuo (drums + vox) are bolstered by touring guitarist Michio, who also plays in the band Ghost.
The last time I saw Boris was 4 years ago because I've missed them the past 2 times they've come through town. Watching and listening to them this time was like following a runaway volume dog and trying to grab its leash. Their set started off under a veil of smoke and lights and for the entire set I felt like I was running to catch that volume dog as it sprinted ahead of me... The beast barked LOUDLY and then careened back towards me to lay down just out of my reach as the set went into some ambient Drone parts... and then that volume dog exploded into a scream of feedback and bolted further down that path of noise with me still chasing it.
Guitar tone is something that's sacred to Umlaut and Wata is the Far Eastern Guitar Goddess of Tone. When she hits her wah-wah and fuzz and goes off part of me wants to point at the sky and say "Aiii!! Godzirra!!!" but Wata's TONE crushes me under its heavy foot of volume. I hate to state the obvious, but how someone so small can create such a huge signature TONE is another one of those bizarre things from the Oriental World, like using chopsticks and eating dogs... (Note: Before any readers go all PC on my ass you should know that Umlaut is Yellow... and for the record I'd eat a human but I would NEVER eat a dog.. Seriously..).
Boris took over the stage at exactly 11:00pm and ruled it as their kingdom for a solid 90 minutes with songs like 'Electric'... '1970'... 'Statement'. Something seemed a little odd at the end of the set... and according to Sensory Abuse (who was standing closer to the stage than Umlaut) Boris' amps blew out the stage power during the last song. Their tape loop was still playing but the lights on the bands' amps went out and the stagehands freaked out. It was at that point when Atsuo climbed over his drums and dove into the crowd... Wata waved... Takeshi said "Thank you!"... and the volume dog from The East finally ran so far ahead of me there was no way I was going to catch it. Sayonara!
Photo courtesy of Sensory Abuse
I didn't do a merch audit but Boris had 25 or 26 (!) different CD titles for sale; their discography is insane. On the way back to the car, some pimply-faced teenagers called me a fag. I didn't roll back into Casa de Umlaut until around 1:00am... and I wanted some sushi but had to settle for a bowl of cereal.