by Drew Millard
I grew up about 45 minutes down the mountain from Asheville, North Carolina, and now I am going to tell you about it. In the past few years, Asheville hasdevolvedfrom one of those Portland-of-the-South type of cities full of punks, beardos, weirdos, hippies, and people who unflinchingly believe in magic(k) to a sterile, craft-brewed playground for moneyed yuppies. This isn’t a bad thing per se—it’s the liberal-capitalist American Dream, after all, to have your startup absorbed by Facebook so you can have 2.5 kids and a Tesla—but it does mean that the number of weirdos per capita in the city has plummeted. But you wouldn’t have known it from hitting the Boris concert at Asheville venue The Orange Peel Sunday night, where the band played to a packed house consisting of perhaps the only freaks the city still has left.
To intentionally misquote that one dorm room poster, you don’t need to take drugs to enjoy a Boris show. Borisaredrugs, and the Japanese metal band will fuck your shit up with even the slightest provocation. They are not just loud, and they are not just heavy. They are PONDEROUS, and their shows are exhaustive physical gauntlets that offer the glorious catharsis of a bloodletting, minus the mess. I wore earplugs during the show out of concern for my own safety. At one point I took them out just to see what it was like; it felt the auditory equivalent of staring directly at a solar eclipse.
One of the most simultaneously endearing and maddening things about Boris is the fact that they put out music at a rate that places them somewhere between Guided by Voices and Lil B. They’re just as likely to sound like Black Sabbath or Motörhead as they are to channel My Bloody Valentine or J-Pop. They made an album with doom metallers Sunn O))), and they frequently collaborate with the god of aural punishment Merzbow—the pair recently released a aZaireeka-styleplay-both-discs-at-once recordwhich I once attempted to listen to by playing one disc on Spotify and the other on iTunes. Anyways, Boris are psychotically talented musicians whose ambition and playfulness cannot be bound by genre, style, or conventional thought. I like to think of them as Radiohead, but for people with taste.
They were in Asheville on Sunday night to play their 2005 recordPinkin its entirety. The record was first distributed in the US in 2006 by Southern Lord, and very recently was reissued by Sargent House with a whole ‘nother album attached, calledForbidden Songs. It isavailable on vinyl, which is important, because this website is called Vinyl Me, Please. And let me tell you, reader, Boris played the goddamn shit out ofPink, plus a bunch of other songs all of which I was too overwhelmed to write down in my phone or even recognize. Everything fromPinksounded stretched out and cavernous when they played it, as if the band had shredded a wormhole in the space-time continuum and sucked all of us up in it.
Musically, Boris’ three members are so in sync that it seems like they share the same brain. But in terms of stage demeanor, it’s almost like they’re in three different bands. Guitarist Wata stood almost completely still onstage, wrapped up in the task of working feedback pedals while also making her Les Paul wail like Slash and double-tapping like Eddie Van Halen. Bassist Takeshi Ohtani’s long hair basically constantly obscured his face, making him look kind of like a hella-metal version of Cousin It. His bass had an extra guitar attached to it, which Wikipedia just told me is so he can play guitar on some songs without switching instruments, but I think you and I can both agree that the main point of playing an instrument that is both a guitar and a bass is that it’s cool as shit.
Drummer Atsuo Mizuno, meanwhile, seems convinced he is in Poison, and I mean that in the most endearing way possible. There was a manic grin plastered on his face throughout the entire set, and at least once a song he would dramatically point one of his drum sticks up towards Valhalla. There was a giant gong set up behind him, and halfway through the set he just started wailing on that fucker as Wata and Ohtani provided a crushing wall of feedback. During Atsuo’s frequent solos, he’d hit his drums so hard that I could feel my chest vibrate. I started wondering if somebody’s rib popped out of their body at a Boris show one time and that’s the thing Atsuo hits his gong with.
Later in the show, he raised his gong-hittin’ stick towards the crowd, only hitting it when we all got loud enough. He’d point and scream at us; we’d scream back at him, then he’d smack the gong like hell. I was once at a concert where Action Bronson threw bags of weed and uncooked steaks into the crowd. Until I saw the thing with Atsuo and the gong, I was sure that was the coolest thing I’d ever seen at a concert. Now, I’m not so sure.
You know that feeling you get when you ride a jetski or a motorcycle or whatever for a really long time, how your body gets so used to getting whipped by the wind and jarred by the constant motion that the kineticism becomes your new normal, and then you just stop? That’s about what it feels like when Boris is playing, versus what it feels like once Boris has stopped playing. Their music is so immersive that it feels like it becomes a part of you, and it’s cool to know that such a feeling is so physically taxing that not everyone would actively seek it out. And in a city like Asheville, which every year looks a little less like the city I knew growing up, it was a great reminder that there are still strange people there who enjoy cool things.