Manchester Ruby Lounge. Support: Growing
This was my first time in the Ruby Lounge, and its atmosphere was most conducive to a rock gig. It seems quite new, not yet soiled to the point of a Bar Phono (Leeds) or the old Rio (Bradford). The smoky atmosphere was simulated; probably best not to wonder what carcinogens were still worming their way into my lungs. I made my way through the atmosphere to my most pressing concern of the time: the merch stall.
See, Boris is a band known not just for their unabashed fecundity, but for the scarcity of a lot of their releases. 2008 saw release of the first Boris-only studio album since Pink in November 2005; named Smile, its Japanese vinyl run was rumoured to be limited to just 500 copies. Soon after release, copies were up on eBay for one hundred pounds or more. A small amount of research, however, revealed the band had ring-fenced a number of copies to be sold on the European tour this spring.
So it was with this foremost in my mind that I bought my ticket for this particular gig: that Boris were phenomenal on the two previous occasions I had seen them was icing on the cake. Tense were the hours building up to the concert – I had to get that record. But what if I arrived at the gig too late? What if the copies had in fact sold out before the Japanese rock ‘n’ roll behemoth even reached the Grey City? These were concerns that preyed on my hi fi-listening mind.
Stopping off at the rather pleasant Abode Hotel café/bar beforehand for tasty ham and brie panini and rather a eak strawberry smoothie, my associate and I marched on to the Lounge in time for the advertised half-past-seven doors-opening. As is usually the case, the doors remained shut for another half-hour, so I got to talking with a fellow Boris fan. Turned out his friend was on the inside, and had the skinny on merch.
When said friend emerged I grilled him about vinyl availability. ‘There’s no vinyl at all, he responded grimly. While disappointed, I was relieved as the weight of limited edition vinyl packs left my weary shoulders. The record was gone, but I was now free to enjoy the gig unencumbered. So we return to the designer murk of the Ruby Lounge. Bonus points were awarded pre-live sets for the comfy leather seating amenities.
At some point the opening act, Growing, started playing. While not a particularly short figure, I found it exceedingly difficult to see the band as they played; perhaps the stage is close to non-existent. Not that I was missing much. The band had been talked up outside the venue as ‘really droney’, the context of which suggested drone = good. Historically I would have been inclined to agree, but we are at such a state of ‘me too’-ism now that I dreaded hearing this Growing. And they were not especially good. Nor even merely good.
It was a case of your usual guitar riff repeats for what feels like an eternity while someone fannies about with apparently ‘experimental’ noises. At times it was promising, with the riffs’ repetition working in Gestalt and bringing the listener up with the spiralling music. It just never led anywhere; on and on it went into cul de sac and dark alley, to the point where it seemed not even the band had the faintest idea where they were going. Where is Jake’s Way? Or is it Jack’s Way? We’ve been driving for hours, let’s just turn round and go home.
On the way the audience was subjected to periods of sub-Isis, movements of sub-Pelican (yes, such a dread thing exists). There were times when it sounded for all the world as though the guitarist was playing for the first time while an early Orb record played in he background. This aesthetic may have been new to the assembly of beards and spectacles, who in all likelihood had never heard experimental heavy metal before about 2003, when the style mags, like Icarus, flew too close to the sunnO))), but this was naked-emperor stuff to anyone with half a brain.
At some point Growing ended, and the headliners were able to take to the stage. Again, not much was visible from my (disad)vantage point, other than occasionally Takeshi’s head. But that was of minimal concern when the sound produced by the power trio rang through loud and clear. It was with heavy heart that I had to leave the venue before the set had finished in order to catch a train, but most of the set was an experience to be savoured.
As one might well have expected (though you never really know what a set will contain when the performer has so many releases from which to choose), the show drew heavily from the recent Smile opus. The set began with what, if we’re really being honest, was essentially a blues rock ballad. I got to thinking about what Reynolds had theories about the band being a tourist in metal, picking and choosing what suited them (I believe he drew parallel with Squarepusher in the world of electronic music). I can’t go for that, though; they have been so good for so long, and play with such passion and energy, that it’s hard not to take them at face value. While they were paying a blues rock ballad at that time, it was so loud and so overwhelming that details of aesthetic hardly mattered a jot.
They tore through a fantastic rendition of ‘メッセージ’ (I think that’s ‘Message’ on the American release), with its ‘Dog Day Sunrise’ melody in the verse and thumping, tribal rhythm. We also got, though not in the strict album order, ‘BUZZ-IN’ and ‘となりのサターン’ (‘My Neighbour Satan’), the highlight of the record. A fabulous song, it enters rather timidly, with chiming stop start melody just bobbing on the surface of the slightly murky waters of the rest of the arrangement.
The juxtaposition is strangely serene, the kind of blissful rock few others than Boris seem to excel at. Then, suddenly, Atsuo batters the toms in staccato and we get drawn into a maelstrom of psychedelic rock freakout. Another ridiculously solid drum fill signals the end of that section and the song, like in musical chairs, returns to its placid stillness. Not quite as unbelievable as Pink’s ‘決別’ (‘Farewell’), it is nevertheless something to be cherished.
There were some other songs; some off Pink (that one I forget the name of, but a decently-sized garage rock tune punctuated by ‘bombombom… BOMBOMBOM!’ riffs) and some I didn’t quite recognise. All were magnificent in the energy the band poured from the stage into our waiting ears. But, like too many gigs I have attended in recent years, the audience was totally physically unreceptive. Were it not for the applause at the end of each song, an observer would be forgiven for thinking they weren’t enjoying it. Very little in the way of dancing, or even head-bobbing. Perhaps attendance at such a cool gig was sufficient effort on their part; enthusiasm took a back seat to being seen by fellow bearded wonders.
It got me thinking. This kind of gig doesn’t really draw the mosh pit types. It seems the meek have inherited the dance floor and there is no way they are going to cave in to the tradition of the heavy metal jocks. It’s like when Zack and Slater were absent from periods of Saved by the Bell, and Screech got to order his own speccy cronies around. It’s Revenge of the Nerds, but with smoke machines and Orange amps.
Whatever the cause of this non-dance inertia, it stank. It was a visible lack of respect for the band their presence ostented to support, as well as providing obstacle for those who did want to dance to music on a night out (perish the thought!). Regardless, the band was awesome as per usual. And while they didn’t play favourites such as ‘Dyna-Soar’, ‘Farewell’ or ‘Ganbou-Ki’ while I was there, what they did play was just the ticket. And I got my record – and got it home in one piece.
POSTSCRIPT: Of course the song in question was ‘Pink’.