Boredoms make some holy noise

Boredoms, the revered Japanese rock ensemble, played one of the shows of the year last night (March 26) at the Congress Theatre in Chicago. The thrust of the music was primitive and tribal, but it was sophisticated in the details. You could let the powerful drumming, the beautiful but incomprehensible war cries and the throbbing electronics wash over you. The band might seem to be playing with wild abandon, like animals let loose on their instruments. But listen more closely and it was as smart as a symphony, with the three percussionists playing complex, overlapping patterns.

The stage was out on the venue’s floor, with Boredoms playing “in the round,” fans on all sides. The setup was a little awkward, but it worked, and the centerpiece of the stage was an assembly of seven guitars into a sort of tower (four guitars pointing left, three pointing right), which Boredoms’ main singer, Eye, periodically hammered at with a pole.

As dominated as the show was by noise, one of the most remarkable moments came early in the night, when all the drumming and sounds abruptly stopped, and all of the musicians paused, their bodies poised to bang away again. The band paused and paused. It was the sort of moment when fans at some concerts will assume that a song is over and start clapping, but everyone at the Boredoms show knew that this moment of silence was part of the music. The vast room was deadly quiet, no one making a sound, except an intake of breath. I could feel the audience recognizing something special in the moment. And then the hammer fell and the drumming resumed with more force than ever.

The first of the opening acts was the Human Bell, another act on the Thrill Jockey label, who played a nice set of their instrumental rock, which is built around short, repeating motifs played with intensity. The second act was Soft Circle (aka drummer Hisham Bharoocha), whose music I was not familiar with. From my vantage point back in the middle of the auditorium, the mix was muddy and the music, mostly electronic loops with live drumming, seemed nondescript.

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