Could I really start this review without ruminating upon the significance of Japan? A nation that is endlessly fascinating to ‘Westerners’, just as the West and its popular culture is equally as magnetic to the Japanese. And who better to illustrate contemporary Jap-Rock (to use Julian Cope’s term) than the mighty Boris? Ever since the forced encroachment of western aesthetics via American imperialism into Japanese sensibilities from the early 20th century, the quake isles have been a mind-swirling and often amusing melting-pot of east meets west. For most serious listeners, Boris typify the ultra-Japanese take on pop and rock with super-cool explorations into genres that could too lazily be termed certain labels like ‘indie’ or ‘sludge’ or ‘pop-punk’. Let us be aware that those labels are inadequate in the Boris context to describe the music you hear from this famed trio. If you put on any one of their seventeen studio albums, not to mention numerous splits and collaborations, you are met with a ludicrously detailed music that joyously begs, borrows and pays tribute to the history of rock and pop (and everything in between and outside) since the early sixties to NOW. And even then, it’s soaked in an art-skewed and often heavy as hell experimentalism that is the essential aroma of all that is JAPANESE and then belched out anew with the verve of originality created in precious geographic and cultural semi-isolation from the Eurozone and North America.
Bristol-based musician Joe Volk, and his delicately fondled ‘leccy guitar, entertained a thinned out audience for twenty minutes or so with a curious blend of nice ethereal songs and very funny banter. Bored or just plain mischievous, or a bit of both (Islington Mill crowds can be a bit stilted and po-faced at times), Joe used an incoherent and high pitched squeaky voice to introduce the second number and later stopped mid-song to berate a man for coughing, plus other such wacky and impromptu tomfoolery that really tickled me and just a few others. Alas I am not familiar with Joe’s music but it was not unpleasant and set the scene well for what was about to come.
Boris, complete with a second touring guitarist, assembled themselves in no time at all and launched into a slow building and titanic version of ‘Huge’ off the classic late nineties album ‘Amplifier Worship’ (everyone who thinks they have taste should own this sonic landmark). And huge it was, showcasing the deft command they have of the timeless bass/drums/guitar configuration. Takeshi of course took centre stage with his impressively customary and unwieldy bass/six string hybrid like a fewer-stringed mutation on the iconography of seventies Jimmy Page. Next they oozed into the sublime ‘Rainbow’, originally on the same titled 2007 album (recorded with guitarist Michio Kurihara). Axe-heroine Wata sings this slow builder in a sweet breathy voice, just a repetition of cymbal and snare as a back-drop and then a piercing art-house guitar solo from the diminutive one that throbs the eardrums without mercy. In some contrast, raging pumped-up rocker ‘Pink’ roared out in bellicose fashion from the speakers and the assembled Boris-nerds down the front went fuckin’ nuts. I notice a neat-looking bespectacled man fist-banging the ether with a body wracked by sheer joy and seemingly singing along to all the words, most of them in Japanese. I love it when I see a true die-hard fan at gigs – it’s so lovely to think that there are those out there whose obsessions revolve around one band in particular and who grow old with such bands too, never leaving them, always patiently waiting for the next tour.
I didn’t know the next two numbers but they sounded good anyway. Atsuo drummed with all the rocking and rolling vigour of a fifties teenager on stage for the first time, whooping down his radio mic and holding his sticks high above his black haired head ready to rip into exuberantly ballistic rolls on his suffering snare drum. ‘Statement’ (from ‘Smile’)came blitzing in with an adrenalin-driven sub-Stooges riff the kind of which can propel machines along roads and a characteristic crazed squealing solo came rippling off Wata’s white hot fretboard. Another unknown to me track followed after which just points out how I haven’t quite managed to hear their entire back catalogue of two hundred songs or whatever it is. Boris are almost approaching the album spawning proliferation of The Fall, such is their immense recorded history.
Penultimate track ‘Cosmos’ from the new split on Invada (with Joe Volk) soared high across our heads like super-slick mid-seventies Pink Floyd mixed up with a thousand other things. The closing number, ‘Flood’ (I think it was Part 3, from the same-named album) started with the familiar gentle guitar refrain and then built and built into a monumentally doom-fucked slab of sound-sculpture. An intrinsically satisfying way to play out ninety minutes of typical Boris inventiveness. Pigeon hole them if you dare – they are a force unto themselves and they embody both hyper-masculine guitar rage and sinuous feminine soothe-rock like no other. And that was that. The band bowed to much applause and then it was done and the audience wandered asunder, disappearing into the darkness of a cold and late Salford Wednesday.
Scribed by: Adam Stone
Photos by: Lee Edwards