May 27, 2005

Boredoms startle, then drone in Japanoise show

The first thing I heard was a blast of static before I rushed to shove my earplugs in.

The sound appeared to be generated by these clear plastic orbs that were being violently swung around by Boredoms front man Yamataka Eye. Every time he moved these light-up yellow balls, a different sound came out. The most pronounced was a deafening wave of white noise when he slammed the objects down on the stage.

Even though the Boredoms played at the Logan Square Auditorium, a modest ballroom more suited to wedding receptions than Japanoise performances, the atmosphere was like a pyrotechnic start to a stadium-sized arena rock show—that's how much energy was built up in the room.

The lights on the pared-down stage were all white as Eye opened the show. His long dreadlocked hair flew everywhere as he created the most hideous and earth-shattering noise I'd ever heard. It was like an electric shock to the brain. Partially hidden by his arsenal of keyboards and effects boxes, Eye kept manipulating our eardrums in different and unusual ways. At times it sounded like video game or sci-fi movie effects, and other times it resembled broken television static. At one point in the show, he held up one of his effects boxes and just started twisting every knob on it.

One of the most distinctive things about the Boredoms is that they have three drummers, all playing roughly the same pattern. For the first part of the show, they mostly stayed silent while Eye was making noise, but in a climactic moment, all three drummers started playing, and the feeling completely changed. While Eye's noise was definitely still an intrinsic part of the show, the rhythmic drumming drowned it out to a certain extent. At this point, Eye just fleshed out the beats with keyboard riffs and ambience.

However, after a few "songs" with constant drumming, the concert fell into the monotony of hearing the same thing for over an hour with only a few intervals of interesting interplay between the beats and noise generation. A notable exception to this uniform sound was one riff where Eye generated a thick bass tone that coincided with a tom hit. The tone was so thick that you could feel the waveforms inside it, and these were mimicked by other drum and cymbal hits. Then suddenly the tone would end, and the shell of drum accompaniment would keep going.

But besides a few instances like this, and the explosive introduction, the Boredoms fell into a rhythm of their own well into the set. Maybe it was the form of hypnosis that the intensive droning beats created—I thought I was going to have heart palpitations—but the last quarter of the show simply wasn't that memorable.

Although I stayed for the encore, which was a slower, more ambient song, I left with mixed feelings about this band, which was known for having unbelievably crazy stage antics in their early days. Even though there were certain call-and-response screaming sections, it seems as if the Boredoms are settling down and shifting away from rock and noise and more towards freeform ambience.

Ideally, I would have liked to see a better balance between the constant drumming and Eye's noise generation. While the three drummers certainly made the music danceable, they detracted from the punk feel the band used to have. My biggest complaint is that beyond the first part of the show, they just weren't noisy enough. But maybe that's because I kept my earplugs in.