Wild Mercury Sound

The best gig I've seen this year. . .

John Mulvey

Sometime last week, we had some kind of half-assed straw poll in the office about our best gigs of 2007. You can probably guess a lot of the stuff that came up: The White Stripes, The Hold Steady, Arctic Monkeys, Dylan, Wilco, Lou Reed’s "Berlin". Good gigs. I held off submitting any suggestions, though, not least because I suspected I’d see my favourite gig of the year on Friday night.

I was right, too. Since maybe around the turn of the decade, the Boredoms have come over here from Japan every couple of years or so and performed shows that have left me euphoric, exhausted and frequently gasping in wonder at the far-out psychedelic music, gripping spectacle and relentless excitement of it all. For the most part, the music they’ve been making through this period hasn’t appeared on CD, and there’s even an argument that the Boredoms don’t actually exist. In Japan, it’s assumed that the band broke up around the turn of the decade; the current configuration, without critical guitarist Seiichi Yamamoto, is known as the Vooredoms (it's not a double o, it's an infinity symbol, but I can't find that in my blogging tools).

Tonight, the stage is set up in the middle of the venue – Shoreditch Town Hall – and fire restrictions or something have meant that the show is sold out, but that there’s acres of space to move about in. The Boredoms – or whoever – now consist of three drummers, whose kits are arranged in a circle facing inwards, plus Eye, their leader, who handles ecstatic yelps and sundry electronics.

The show begins with Eye producing zinging, sizzling sounds in a darkened hall, illuminated only by the glowing globes in his hands that somehow seem to be generated the noises. Then the drumming starts, slowly and methodically at first, then building up a fierce momentum that calls to mind a kind of super-evolved Krautrock. On it goes, shifting constantly, punctuated by effects generated by Eye’s mixer. Sometimes he howls magically, leaping around amidst the gear, a real force of nature driving this crushingly devotional music.

This is all pretty familiar to those of us who’ve seen the shows before. Tonight, though, there’s a markedly heavier feel, with the tribal beats often straying closer to the hardcore of the band’s early years than the organic techno feel that usually predominates. Sometimes, uncharacteristically, they even pause, briefly.

There’s also a new instrument, which I think may be called a guitar fence, positioned right in front of me. This consists of seven guitar necks bolted horizontally onto two stands. At key moments, Eye turns away from his mixer, grabs a couple of drumsticks and throws himself at the guitar wall, making a thunderous racket that’s quite extraordinary (and which left me predictably deaf for most of the weekend). A roadie is on hand to steady the stands, which are shaking violently as you might imagine, especially when Eye decides the drumsticks aren’t substantial enough and goes at the guitar necks with what I can only describe as a bloody great pole.

This goes on for about an hour and a half, eventually mutating into a sort of blissed happy house (very reminiscent of Eye’s “Anarchy Way” single as The Lift Boys on Smalltown Supersound), with Yoshimi, one of the drummers, letting out her trademark ululations in a glorious call and response. Because they’re playing in the round, I can see most of the crowd grinning joyously as they cluster worshipfully around the stage, willing them on to higher and higher transcendental peaks. It’s astonishing music, and I can’t easily compare the experience to much else I’ve felt in 20-odd years of going to see bands. Anyone else share the magic with me?


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