I’ve witnessed crowd-shushing from the rows of soft seats at the opera house, but never from behind the mosh pit at a metal show.
During the song “16:47:52” by Japanese power trio Boris at the Marquis Theater on Monday, a man next to the pit started some serious index-finger-to-mouth shushing, to be quickly followed by another guy behind me wildly yelling, “Shut the f*ck up and be quiet!” Setting the irony of that vent aside for a minute, I can’t say either attempt was completely successful.
But, they were testament to how carefully people wanted to listen — which can be as common at a metal show as Kathleen Battle stage diving in the middle of La Traviata.
The song’s melody plaintively swathed guitarist Wata’s sparse and wispy vocals. It was a song from the band’s 7-inch release “Heavy Rock v.3,” but it was melancholy, not rock, that gave the composition its weight. Atsuo, the often-frenetic drummer, hung back from his kit and tapped out the beat on wood blocks. Takeshi strummed the melody deliberately from the guitar side of his double-necked bass/guitar and Wata ended the song with haunting cries from a handheld E-bow, a device that manipulates or bows guitar strings magnetically.
For a group whose output includes album titles like “Amplifier Worship,” “Absolutego” “Dronevil” and “Megatone,” it was an unambiguous statement even amid the buzzy din of the packed venue. Boris’ body of work has never been restricted to metal or punk rock, psychedelia or stoner rock, or any of the other genre tags they’ve incurred. The band has consistently refused to create music targeted toward any fixed sound or idea. Theirs is a more fluid and unprompted approach.
“Farewell,” from 2005’s heralded “Pink” album, began with a sparser guitar interpretation of English folksinger Nick Drake’s song, “Horn,” until a wave of guitar fuzz nearly buried the melody. Wata, Takeshi and touring guitarist Michio Kurihara from Ghost slathered layer after layer of distortion on top of one another. It was a great combination of form and chaos, the crescendo finally giving way to the same sparse opening chords again.
“A Bao A Qu,” from the soundtrack to the film “Mabuta No Ura,” began in a contemplative tone and gave way to Takeshi’s extreme slide guitar shifts. It preceded the music many had come to see in a crowd that spanned 16 to 60, and, which Boris can certainly do on par with anyone — namely, shred.
“Pink” was a blistering diamond of a song, lifting the pit off the ground with machine gun guitar lines shot over a slab of white noise. What sounded like “Korosu,” taken from the album “Heavy Rocks,” also blazed with such volume and speed it sounded ready to shatter.
The interplay of three guitarists switching leads is something that can either devolve into a shamble or sound like one really loud guitar, and the fact that neither happened was evidence of how well the band members complement each other. After watching Kurihara play guitar for an evening, it’s difficult to imagine what he can’t do. With their adroit blend of subtlety and ferocity, the same might be said about Boris.
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Denver-based writer Sam DeLeo is a published poet, has seen two of his plays produced and is currently finishing his second novel.