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A Furious Smile

Boris, Growing, and Clouds At The Ottobar Dec. 4

The City Paper Digi-Cam™

By Lee Gardner | Posted 12/10/2008

Not only does Boris singer/guitarist/bassist Takeshi plug his double-necked instrument into a looming stack of Sunn amplifiers, he appears to have the Sunn logo tattooed on his inner right forearm, or at least that's what it looked like if you were right in front of the stage at the Ottobar on a recent Thursday night. If that is indeed what it is, the ink only underlines Boris' career-long dedication to tinnitus-inducing monolithic guitar drone, the kind of fathomless roar that filled its one-track 1996 debut album Absolutego from end to end. But over the course of 13 (!) subsequent studio albums--plus live releases, collaborations, singles, and side projects, all released in a drove of collector-bait formats--the Japanese power trio has cycled through almost every imaginable variation of that drone, from Melvinsesque avant-sludge to Sabbath-y crunch to My Bloody Valentine ear-bleed gauze. When the band hit Baltimore for the first time in a while, Boris reaffirmed that it isn't "experimenting." The band knows exactly what it's about.

As does the set-sandwiched Growing. After a blast of energetic and eclectic but undistinguished post-hardcore from Boston's Clouds, the Brooklyn, N.Y., duo-plus-auxillary-knob-twister took the stage, strapped on guitars, bent over racks of effects and electronics, and launched a tremolo throb through the PA. Bobbing over their rigs, they subtly added to and varied the throb, eventually bringing it to a climax via a more amorphous free-form section, then seamlessly beginning again with another throb, or a staccato sampled melody/riff. At one point, Joe Denardo played counterpoint with himself via delay, at another Kevin Doria flicked out some echoing Vahalla chords, but otherwise it was straight-up effects stew, practiced if not necessarily always gripping.

Boris offered a bit more of a show, to say the least. Puffs from a fog machine beneath drummer Atsuo's kit wreathed the stage in white wafts as the trio, along with touring guitarist/collaborator Michio Kurihara, began not with one of its barnstorming Stooge-y tunes, but the ethereal folkish melody of "Flower, Sun, Rain," a cover of '70s Japanese group Pyg that leads off Boris' 2008 album Smile, an effort redolent of moody vintage psych-rock. As petite guitarist Wata, lovely in a silky, blousy peach top, drew wistful peals from her Les Paul, the band set a mood out of step with the hoodie-wearing-dude vibe down front. Not that the hoodie-wearing dudes went wanting. Boris threw out red meat with the frantic riffing of recent burners "Laser Beam," "Pink," and "Statement," with Wata and Kurihara impassively smearing grainy leads over the top. (Atsuo, with his rooster hair and animal print shirt never buttoned over a bare chest, did enough rocker mugging for the rest of the band put together.)

A wispy Wata vocal on "Rainbow," the title track of Boris' 2007 collaboration with Kurihara, shifted the mood again, and the band seized it. What they did was run through the rest of Smile, but other than the creepy-crawly riff of "My Neighbor Satan," what it sounded like was a suite, constructed of plangent melodies, the occasional churning riff, and spacey breakdowns. This, this mood, became what the show was about. Smile ends with an untitled track, 15 minutes long, that progresses from a few lonely guitar notes into a full-on power ballad that is eventually swallowed by effects wash and the same sort of massive, fuzzy chords that dominated Absolutego. That's where the set ended, too, after some hour and a half, filling the room with that all-encompassing overdriven drone. No encore. No need.

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