PHILADELPHIA, PA—The minute details of this show—the sort of material one packs into reviews to give the reader a sense of having been there—are almost inconsequential. I have no witty anecdotes about waiting in line or struggling to find parking. It does not matter what the bands were wearing, what the median age of the crowd happened to be— hell, even what songs were performed. To require such details would be the equivalent of expecting news coverage of a landslide to identify the individual minerals present in the debris.
Because that is what a Boris show is: an aural landslide. And while the opening bands couldn’t match the sheer power or volume of the headliner’s set, they served as tests of sonic endurance, gradually increasing in difficulty as if preparing the listener for the assault to come. Russian Circles, in particular, impressed with their tightly-wound exercises in tension and release. With only three musicians and a few loop pedals, the band managed to seamlessly balance sustained passages of brooding majesty with the brutal heaviness that defines the group’s brand of post-rock. Disappearer displayed a lot of potential with their Isis-influenced riff-heavy sludge and deserve a nod as well.
Still, despite the solid (even remarkable, in Russian Circles’ case) performances of the supporting acts, neither of them could hold a candle to the overwhelming force that is Boris. I didn’t hear them play so much as I felt them play. There’s really no other way to accurately describe a Boris concert. And when I say, “I felt them play,” I don’t mean it as some abstract appeal to emotion (though, that will come later). I mean it quite literally. Every squall of feedback or kick of the bass drum resonated through my body. The sound engineer might as well have punched every channel into the red and ducked out for the rest of the night. This is not hyperbole. A teenager in front of me passed out at one point while clutching his ears. My own ears rang for days afterwards.
But Boris, accompanied by experimental guitarist extraordinaire Michio Kurihara, have a way of shaping ugly guitar tones at uncomfortable volumes into movements of unquestionable beauty. Concerning set-opener “Farewell,” from the album Pink, an anecdote about John Cage comes to mind: after a performance of the Hallelujah chorus from Handel’s Messiah (in other versions of the story, it’s an unnamed opera), when questioned about his apparent lack of emotion, Cage responds by saying, “I like being moved. I resent being pushed.” Cage probably wouldn’t like “Farewell,” seeing as it doesn’t push so much as it drops its shoulder and rams. It’s the rare concert experience that can move (push? ram? okay, not ram, that sounds questionable) me to the verge of tears, but Boris managed it twice. Once with “Farewell,” and again with the untitled final track from 2008’s Smile, during which the band repeat a simple VI-I progression to infinity, amps at eleven, percussion having been cut out. Surrounded by a crowd taking the title of Boris’s 1998 album Amplifier Worship quite literally, greeting the hypnotic waves of distortion with outstretched arms as if it were some deeply spiritual experience, it’s hard not to get caught up in the moment, and it’s worth the damage to your hearing.