Live Review | Boredoms, All Tomorrow’s Parties, Minehead, UK, 11.03.12
Words: Lucy Cage
Photography: Michele Wade
Boredoms, as David Yow pronounced from the stage after seeing them that day at All Tomorrow’s Parties, are “the best fucking thing I have ever seen!”
I’m tempted to leave it at that.
Seriously, the best thing I have ever seen.
Oh, OK. So when I last saw Boredoms play a very long time ago they were this wiry electric ball of jazz-skronk, a bewildering, exhilarating, ridiculous tangle onstage and off, all of the members of the band bouncing off the walls and trailing noise wherever they went. They were a blast.
Boredoms have evolved. While still orchestrated by Eye and featuring drummer/singer Yoshimi P-We, Boredoms 2012 are as far from a chaotic Zorn-esque kerfuffle as a puma from a kitten.
Yoshimi starts by remembering (in Japanese; someone translates) the first year anniversary of the tsunami. She asks for a minute of silence and the whole place is quiet except for the rustles at the edges. Out of this loaded stillness, the performance starts with little whispered drifts of sound from each musician, a barely-perceptible breeze blowing through strings, the sound of an ensemble not tuning up so much as breathing. It takes a while to realise that this is a beginning rather than random clatter but when the noises coalesce into an almighty epic of a piece, it is clear that this is not anything like the skittery Boredoms of old: this is an oddly shaped but formidable orchestra.
In this particular incarnation there are 14 (fourteen!) guitarists on stage, ranged around a tight ring of five full drum kits in the midst of which storm Eye is conductor extraordinaire. But Eye is so much more than a conductor, even conductor in the sense of channeller of electricity rather than the more prosaic ‘leader’; he is a conjuror, a lightning rod, node, shepherd, magician. Today he is Prospero on his island choreographing orchestral spirits in a hooded robe and straw fisherman’s hat. He looks like he’s catching tunes. He coaxes sound from the players with gestures and dances his instructions as if he were a shaman engaged in spellcasting rather than mere entertainment.
This doesn’t sound like rock music. It seems to have more DNA in common with the sea or the weather than a rock band; his musicians respond to him with flurries of beats, the drummers in unison or sequence, or firing off a ripple of riffs in a Mexican wave of drumkits as if they were a taiko ensemble whose moves are as integral to the performance as their beat and whose performances are as beautiful to watch as they are to listen to. It’s enthralling, the ballet they make.
Eye raises and lowers his hands, playing Yoshimi’s wordless voice as if she were a theremin, pitch and tone and volume tweaked mid-air. This is no mess. It might be as maximalist as fuck but every note is perfectly controlled, every cymbal hit from every drummer precisely in unison. The amount of skill and sheer hard slog in the practice room must be phenomenal.
Then there are the guitars, the glorious massed guitars, which in chorus make a unique noise. It’s not just about volume, it’s the tone and the size and the immensity of it. Eye wants to play the biggest guitar in the world and he already has two custom-made monsters with several sets of strings bolted onto a frame at the back of the stage; now he has a circular series guitar made from14 men and women to play on, with 14 sets of six strings all sounding one gigantic chord, strings upon struck strings, chiming like no other instrument. It’s a physical presence, that chord, juddering through the audience like fear or bliss or some such other primal reaction. The sound of all those guitars playing together makes other instruments redundant; you can hear them there anyway. Who’d have thought you could conjure oboes, horns, string sections, choirs, thunder, lightning, shadows and light out of massed reverberating strings?
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