The Japanese noise trio's set at One Eyed Jacks sounded more like an alien transmission than a rock show.

boris photo by sam weil for my spilt milk
Boris at One Eyed Jacks, by Sam Weil

When Boris played One Eyed Jacks recently, there were moments when the Japanese noise-rock trio sounded as though it had scrapped the entire history of recorded music and created an entirely original form of organized sound. Boris has always lived on the fringe, especially in its native Tokyo, where the band were the first to truly explore harsh noise inspired by the likes of Melvins and Earth in the early ‘90s. Currently touring behind Dear, its 24th studio album (not including 13 collab projects), Boris is also celebrating its 25th anniversary.

This insanely prolific career has been defined by an exponential rate of change. Boris sounds like a different band on every album, and often like multiple bands all at once. It has tried its hand at sludge metal, shoegaze, drones, and much, much more. Boris even flirted with J-Pop. This chaotic approach can be disorienting for new listeners, but the band's ethos is so effortlessly immersive that it sucks us in anyway. It helps that the lyrics are few and far between and in Japanese, allowing us to take in the gorgeously textured instrumentation without distraction.

Boris’ setup at One Eyed Jacks was the most ambitious I’ve seen there, bar none. The back wall was lined with massive Orange amplifiers and a smorgasbord of modular synths and effects pedals. The smoke machine kept cranking in full gear all night long, and four projectors augmented to the venue’s meat and potatoes light show. Frankly, I’m surprised they didn’t short-circuit the whole establishment. The most impressive part of their live performance, though, was the fluid state of symbiosis the band seem to exist in, moving through soundscapes like a three-headed monster, each mouth with something different to say.

Wata plays guitar and keyboard, and acted as the switchboard operator for the band’s absurd effects set up, engineering the its characteristic walls of sound through her mastery of the Roland RE-201 Space Echo, among other toys. The psychedelic shredding on some of her solos was the closest Boris got all night to any semblance of traditional rock 'n' roll, and her keyboard textures added an extra level of eerie ambience when she set down the axe. The only female member of the band, her soothing voice stood out against the harsh dissonance of the mix.

boris photo by sam weil Wata of Boris, by Sam Weil

Takeshi’s double-necked bass/guitar probably shouldn’t exist, but it sounded incredible in his hands. The intense delay and looping allowed him to lay a heavy, sinister bass part down, then embark on guitar abstractions, playing over himself. He took lead vocals more often than anyone else, and probably moved around the stage the most too, but he wasn’t the front man.

That position went to Boris’ drummer, Atsuo, who stole the show. His setup was relatively modest compared to the rest of the band, but he made up for it with his musicianship and persona. His movements were almost comically theatrical, every motion exaggerated to the fullest. He’d lift a drumstick high in the air like a baton, open his mouth wider than I thought humanly possible, and let out a primal yell before battering his neon pink set so intensely that I started to feel bad for it. Other times, he’d smash the giant Zildjian gong behind him. It wasn’t that loud compared to everything going on around it, but the visual display was more than enough to make an impact.

Atsuo sang too, and like his drumming, he put everything he had into the tracks songs that featured his lead vocals. He would jump on his drum set, crouching down and perching atop it like a creature from a horror movie too terrifying for theaters. At the end of the night, he threw his drumsticks into the crowd, and one of them was broken. According to the people standing next to me, he snapped it during the first song and went on playing without a hitch.

As far as I could tell, the band played through Dear during the regular set, but on the encore, then invited Endon’s lead singer and guitarist onstage for the encore to perform a rendition of their relentless 2003 headbanger “Akuma no Uta.” The crowd had remained relatively motionless, frozen in awe for the majority of Boris’ otherworldly set, but the addition of Taichi Nagura’s screamed vocals and aggressive antics brought everyone to life. A frantic mosh broke out, almost descending into chaos as a few folks fell, creating a near-disastrous domino effect.

Once Nagura exited the stage, Boris brought us back to 2005’s Pink for its final piece, the epic “Farewell.” A lush, shoegazing saga, it was the softest song of the night, easing the tension out of the recently mobilized audience and ending things on a surprisingly pensive note. Still, Boris played it with such eerie force and cosmic urgency that it seemed more like an SOS transmission from an alien ship than anything created on this planet.