Photography: Michele Wade
Boredoms, as David Yow pronounced from the stage after seeing them that day at All Tomorrow’s Parties, are "the best fucking thing I have ever seen!"
I’m tempted to leave it at that.
Seriously, the best thing I have ever seen.
Oh, OK. So when I last saw Boredoms play a very long time ago they were this wiry electric ball of jazz-skronk, a bewildering, exhilarating, ridiculous tangle onstage and off, all of the members of the band bouncing off the walls and trailing noise wherever they went. They were a blast.
Boredoms have evolved. While still orchestrated by Eye and featuring drummer/singer Yoshimi P-We, Boredoms 2012 are as far from a chaotic Zorn-esque kerfuffle as a puma from a kitten.
Yoshimi starts by remembering (in Japanese; someone translates) the first year anniversary of the tsunami. She asks for a minute of silence and the whole place is quiet except for the rustles at the edges. Out of this loaded stillness, the performance starts with little whispered drifts of sound from each musician, a barely-perceptible breeze blowing through strings, the sound of an ensemble not tuning up so much as breathing. It takes a while to realise that this is a beginning rather than random clatter but when the noises coalesce into an almighty epic of a piece, it is clear that this is not anything like the skittery Boredoms of old: this is an oddly shaped but formidable orchestra.
In this particular incarnation there are 14 (fourteen!) guitarists on stage, ranged around a tight ring of five full drum kits in the midst of which storm Eye is conductor extraordinaire. But Eye is so much more than a conductor, even conductor in the sense of channeller of electricity rather than the more prosaic ‘leader’; he is a conjuror, a lightning rod, node, shepherd, magician. Today he is Prospero on his island choreographing orchestral spirits in a hooded robe and straw fisherman’s hat. He looks like he’s catching tunes. He coaxes sound from the players with gestures and dances his instructions as if he were a shaman engaged in spellcasting rather than mere entertainment.
This doesn’t sound like rock music. It seems to have more DNA in common with the sea or the weather than a rock band; his musicians respond to him with flurries of beats, the drummers in unison or sequence, or firing off a ripple of riffs in a Mexican wave of drumkits as if they were a taiko ensemble whose moves are as integral to the performance as their beat and whose performances are as beautiful to watch as they are to listen to. It’s enthralling, the ballet they make.
Eye raises and lowers his hands, playing Yoshimi’s wordless voice as if she were a theremin, pitch and tone and volume tweaked mid-air. This is no mess. It might be as maximalist as fuck but every note is perfectly controlled, every cymbal hit from every drummer precisely in unison. The amount of skill and sheer hard slog in the practice room must be phenomenal.
Then there are the guitars, the glorious massed guitars, which in chorus make a unique noise. It’s not just about volume, it’s the tone and the size and the immensity of it. Eye wants to play the biggest guitar in the world and he already has two custom-made monsters with several sets of strings bolted onto a frame at the back of the stage; now he has a circular series guitar made from14 men and women to play on, with 14 sets of six strings all sounding one gigantic chord, strings upon struck strings, chiming like no other instrument. It’s a physical presence, that chord, juddering through the audience like fear or bliss or some such other primal reaction. The sound of all those guitars playing together makes other instruments redundant; you can hear them there anyway. Who’d have thought you could conjure oboes, horns, string sections, choirs, thunder, lightning, shadows and light out of massed reverberating strings?
This is awesome in its most literal meaning. Music as power. I am rooted to the spot, pins and needles in my feet, as static and entranced by sound as I have ever been. People are open-mouthed. Shuddering. Gasping. The man in front of me has put his head down and wrapped his arms around himself to filter some of it out but it’s not discordant or painful, this noise, it’s delightful, mighty, ringing with harmonics and beauty. There’s a girl crying further down the row. Indeed, I can feel tears pricking behind my eyelids. Where did that come from, what internal button has been jabbed to elicit that response? What a strange species we are.
Eye uses whatever he can: a magpie making its nest out of hip hop beats, heavy metal doom chords, tribal polyrhythms. Sometimes a big bossy tune swells into existence, as if soundtracking some portentous scene from a horror film we can’t see. Which has the effect of making the experience actually frightening in parts: what the fuck is he summoning here? Clanging on his seven-headed guitar hybrid with a big wooden stick, the chilling thought occurrs to me that he really could be raising demons, cooking up a witches brew, stirring the substance of the sound with his staff like some ferocious musical Gandalf! I don’t think I’ve ever been scared by music before.
At one point in the second piece of the 90 minute set the chattering of all those guitars is like the metal teeth of an immense xylophonic giant. There are Eastern tonalities and scattered outbreaks of Western freeform drumming in amongst the order. It’s simultaneously pretty and disorientating and mesmeric.
The last piece takes the all-out approach to endings: it is endings taken to an apocalyptic degree. One simple, in fact downright cheesy, tune is amplified out of all proportion, inflated by guitar upon guitar taking it on, aloft on a repetitive tribal rhythm, repeated and repeated until it spirals us into an altered stated of consciousness and does not let go. Over and over, this one tune, until it is beaten into our heads and our blood and the rhythm of our heartbeats. It’s a virus, it’s a curse. It’s a call to arms. It’s a theme tune, a clarion call, it’s hypnosis. Music that has a physical effect on flesh and blood. Eye will not let it go, will not let us go. The tune ends and then starts up again, shaking us with all the tenacity of a crocodile with a bunny in its irresistibly prehistoric locked jaw.
When the beast of a tune does finally release its grip and lets the audience stagger out into the sunshine, they are reeling. People are turning to each other, wide-eyed and inarticulate, gasping like landed fish for something sensible to say.
I think, more than anything, we feel extraordinarily lucky.
Originally published on Collapse Board