The Fog Lifts

"Intelli-metal" stars make up in volume what they lose in mystique

To the not-your-average-metal-show promises extravagantly made by five fine, text-dense New York Times Magazine pages praising Boris and SunnO))) over the weekend, only two people in the audience called bullshit: the longhair who whipped off his shirt, mid–Boris set, and howled while rubbing sweat on my pristine white T; and the bouncer who, post-everything, announced, "Shit ain't music, it's fucking noise."

Even for the believers, there were some unanswered questions. Could it be a Heady Metal show without a smoke machine? Avalon's too tightly run ship sucked the avant trappings of SunnO)))'s dry ice right into the ventilation system, crippling the vaunted mystery quotient. For gimmicks, then, the band was down to only their robes, former Melvins bassist Mark Deutrom, and Boris's gong; worse, extreme heat had reduced their formerly massive Hessian manes to limp and sweaty rags.

Undaunted, Boris drummer Atsuo worked his band's opening set while wearing white batting gloves, wielding fuzzy gong-mallets, and wailing into a wireless headset, thus ruling the crowd before note one. But the Japanese group's best moment was also their most coy: closing with "Farewell," opening track on their breakout Pink record—a song made of fine-spun feedback, drifting chords, and a not-metal-in-any-vocabulary girlish cry.

Several New York Times Magazine readers are hiding behind that gong
photo: David Atlas
Several New York Times Magazine readers are hiding behind that gong

SunnO)))—99 parts volume, one part drone—made for simpler math. For every bowel shaken loose by masterminds Stephen O'Malley and Greg Anderson, add four players (keyboardist Rex Ritter, opener Oren Ambarchi, bassist Deutrum, and gong-banger Atsuo), nine full amp stacks, and two communal bottles of wine, then watch the shit fly: the more noise, the merrier the widespread chest-collapse. The audience steadily cleared out and improved sight lines, and onstage, hoods lowered with effort; our druids began to look not like effete minimalists, but workers tackling a difficult job. Laboriously six men lifted three guitars, the Moog player's hands, two ubiquitous mallets, and one historic bass, and then, in slow motion, the tools came down.

 
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