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[Gig Review] Boris @ Mr. Small's, Pittsburgh - October 2017


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After having not been to any concerts in close to two years, I had the unique opportunity to see two of my favorite live bands in the same week.  On Friday, Boris came to town, and that meant anything could happen.

I have seen Boris live four times now.  Between those four sets, there is exactly one song that I have heard them play more than once.  Their catalogue is enormous, and they are not afraid to go just about anywhere within it.  A radically diverse band, they have written everything from j-pop to black metal.  No, you never know what you're going to hear at a Boris concert until you hear it.

But the first big surprise came before they ever took the stage.  I had never heard of either of the opening bands.  The first was called Endon.  They began with this:

It literally just exploded out of nowhere.  Most opening acts catch you off guard to some extent.  You're still looking at merchandise and ordering your drinks and the like and then you hear some guitars and oh I guess these guys are playing now, but this was something else.  That instant explosion of tremolo drone and noise wall punched the entire room on the jaw.  It was instantly captivating, and as the minutes started to tick by with very little variation, I knew I was going to love this band.

I'm a sucker for noise aesthetics and subtlety.  I can get lost in a song that drones along for 15 minutes where most people are bored to tears.  My only two thoughts during this track were "I wonder if they're going to play this for the entire set" and "oh god I'm probably the only person in the room who doesn't hate this but I f---ing love this."

After a few minutes the singer came stumbling onto the stage, thrashing about and screaming without a microphone and just pumping himself up wildly, and they pitched a seamless transition into the second track, which happens to be the only one I could find on youtube (different gig, same tour):

Their whole set was brilliant.  A sort of post-everything band, they offered a delicious mix of black metal, screamo, noise, and drone that never yielded an ounce of intensity whether it was blaring at full blast beat or drawled down to a simple guitar loop.  The singer even took a dive off the stage to sing a track in the middle of the audience--something that doesn't happen half as often as you might think.  Brilliant stuff.  I was sad to see them go, and small as the audience was for the opening act of a gig that was never going to have a high turnout at its peak, I think a lot of minds were blown.  There was a lingering silence after the lights came back on, like, did that just happen?  Endon was easily one of if not the best band I have ever encountered for the first time at a concert.  I would go see them again if they were touring alone in a heartbeat.

It was kind of unfortunate that they played first though, because the second band never had a prayer of living up to them.  I'd never heard of Helms Alee, and if I never do again that will be ok.  There was nothing wrong with them, they were just way more in line with the typical fare you get before a headliner.  The trio consisted of a female bassist and drummer, and a male guitarist who could have passed for a beggar on a street corner, with matted hair down to his elbows and a beard to match.  I could never get a good head for their image, and their sound was just as confusing.  Sometimes the guitarist reminded me of Aaron Turner, but other times they were borderline poppy.  They really couldn't sing very well, or at least it sounded out of tune to me, and their songs were eclectic with too much noodling for my taste.  Their randomness felt a bit forced to me.  Meh.  That being said, I really could not get Endon out of my head for most of the set.  I was staring right through Helms Alee still imagining the previous band killing it on stage.  They really shouldn't have been the middle act.  I think I could have appreciated them more as the opener.

And then there was Boris, and this time around Boris decided to drone.  Like I said, they have a hundred different faces and there's no telling which you're going to see.  This set was all about the pure wall of sound, and god it was intense.  They literally just played their newest album from start to finish and then an encore of their most staple tune.  Dear is a harder Boris album to get into than most (relatively speaking; my Boris directory contains 53 albums and is by no means complete) because it's almost entirely drone, but it was tailor made for an epic live performance.  Everything was this slow rolled wall of bassy noise that vibrated through you so forcefully that you felt the music as much as you heard it--much like a Sunn O))) performance really--and Boris pulled it off as only they could, with an infallible attention to precision and detail.  There was some unfortunate buzzing for 15 minutes or so that I think was coming from the overhead house speakers, not their own equipment, but other than that it was perfect.

This video is from a show in April, but it's the identical set.  If you skip around through it you won't notice much variance; that's the nature of a drone concert.  But maybe check out a minute or so starting at 2:30 to get a feel for just how loud and overpowering they are right from the start despite the incredibly slow tempo, then jump to 1 hour 22 minutes for a taste of the noise they were pushing out at its most extreme.  The audience isn't quite at the end because of disinterest.  It was obvious who didn't like this sort of thing because they all left way before it got there.  Similar to after Endon, everyone was just speechless for a bit.

They did an encore of Farewell at the end, which was nice.  It's perhaps their most staple track (the only one I've actually heard them play more than once in a span of four gigs, heh).  I don't know that it was even necessary really; they clearly set out with an agenda to present one specific aesthetic for this show, and the original conclusion really tied it shut in a nice neat package.  But I'll never complain about a little extra at the end.

I think if I was a first-time Boris fan I would have been a bit disappointed.  This was, after all, marketed as their 25th Anniversary tour, and they played all of one familiar track unless you've managed to get into their thick and droney newest album--easier said than done.  Would it have been nice to hear a greatest hits type of setlist, with Flood and Naki Kyoku and the like?  Sure.  But what they did fit the theme in its way; this is a very old style of Boris, wrapped in the package of a new set of songs.  It was very much a throwback tour in spite of the lack of classics.  As someone who'd seen them three times before, I absolutely love that I got to encounter this face for the first time.  (Previous shows I've been to they played Feedbacker in its entirety, Smile, and Rainbow, the latter two with Michio Kurihara joining the tour.)  Here's to hoping I get to see them another 50 or so times so I can cover every base.  I do still need to hear Flood live once to die truly content with my life.   :wink:


10/10, concert fully delivered.  The extent to which I enjoyed this more than the GWAR gig five days prior is staggering, and I had a hell of a lot of fun at that one too.  This was just, pretty much as good as it gets.

Edited by Shad_
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