First, a bedtime story. Way back in summer 2002, Boredoms played at the Royal Festival Hall in London. Unexpectedly, a last-minute act was added to the bill in the form of John Cale. Two experimental adventurers for the price of one – bonus. Boredoms played first, spinning infinite amounts of fizzy endorphin magic from just three drumkits and a yelping stick figure with dreads. There was much rejoicing, and much dancing in the aisles. Then Cale played, alone at an electronic piano, his dour Dylan Thomas-informed sprechesang almost visibly corroding the love of life that Boredoms had generated. Many people walked out, desperate to salvage those last remnants of carefree delirium. You had to feel sorry for Cale – it really wasn’t his fault that people valued the rare and lofty peak of Boredoms glee enough to want to keep it for as long as possible.
There’s a moral to this tale. Don’t follow joy with misery; it doesn’t take. Tonight, history repeats itself, though some lessons have been learned. This evening also sees Boredoms twinned with a legendary merchant of melancholy – but at least he’s on first. Michael Gira, revered core of Swans and Angels of Light, almost seems to be mocking the aesthetic mismatch as he darkly croons ‘God damn the sun’. Could he make the dichotomy more obvious? With his Brylcreemed hair, white shirt and braces, Gira resembles a frontier barman. His appearance is an external symptom of his preoccupations, his role as a teller of tales from an forgotten, perhaps fictional America. The songs, performed solo on an acoustic guitar, are dusty byways where everyone is out to rob and kill you. His insistent, heavy grooves are overlaid with guttural howls that demand fight or flight. For all the flashes of primal power and endless darkness, there’s a fine, fuzzy line between a gutsy harrowing bellow and a Stars in Their Eyes Jandek performed by Ian Astbury. Gira crosses this line a few times, but at least makes apologetic reference to his wayward voice. And even though he’s not on top form, his presence and songs guarantee an enraptured crowd.
Gira is impressive, but there’s only so much crushing gloom a body can stand. Antidote time. But Boredoms’ drum-circle line-up – Eye plus Yoshimi, Muneomi Senju and Yojiro – has been plying essentially the same set for a good few years now. Is there anything new in Bore-world?
It’s always a good sign when Eye arrives on stage with his balls out. He throws shapes clutching his glowing, motion-sensitive electronic orbs; with every flick of the wrist, every snap of the elbow, they crack the air with blasts of coruscating noise. It’s so ridiculously exciting, the atmosphere so alive with energy, that you could go home right now and still have seen the best gig of your life. But then the three drummers take their seats and a lopsided, almost proggy beat begins to take shape. The percussive onslaught is as energised as ever, but it’s clear that the well-worked Boredoms set has either been refined beyond recognition or discarded almost entirely in favour of an even more ecstatic aesthetic. The 2007 incarnation is less linear, more intricately structured, with more microscopic attention to stops, starts, sudden shifts. And yet for all its enhanced structure it’s still compellingly danceable, especially during Yoshimi’s funky keyboard arpeggios. She’s a total powerhouse throughout, a blur of silver lamé and skinny limbs, while Eye raises the ritualistic temperature ever higher with his chants and samples. He has a new secret weapon too – a rack mounted with seven guitar necks, each tuned to a different chord and amplified beyond sanity. Beating them with big sticks or small, he’s a one-man Glenn Branca guitar choir. It’s a truly vast sound, one that takes the already supernaturally good Boredoms experience as close as it gets to utter perfection. If this doesn’t move your muscles then you’re probably dead. With so many new ideas crammed into a seemingly limited format, it’s clear that the Boredoms’ evolution from a chaotic experimental punk band into an unstoppable avant-trance joy-machine is still a work in progress.
(originally published in Rock-a-Rolla)