This was, for most, one of those perplexing bills. A slowcore/dream pop duo opening for a droney, sludgy, psychedelic metal trio; near polar opposites with distinctly different fan bases. For most, that's an annoying evening. For some, though, those of us with disparate taste in music, the contrast was refreshing and welcome. And for fans of Ghost, just seeing guitarist Michio Kurihara on stage for three hours or so was the whole point.
So follow Michio, then. He took the stage alongside Damon Krukowski and Naomi Yang and a cellist slightly filling out the sound, and provided tension and ambience. Michio has collaborated with Damon & Naomi since Ghost's Masaki Batoh produced 2000's "Damon & Naomi with Ghost," but his role never seemed so prominent as it did Friday, maybe because the songs otherwise were more sparsely orchestrated than on record -- no percussion, even. Damon strummed softly on an acoustic guitar while Naomi alternated between bass and keys, and the cello added a light backdrop. The sound suits the quiet, pretty vocals of Damon and Naomi -- Naomi rightfully takes the majority of the leads, hers being the stronger, prettier voice, but Damon was impressive with his tender, heartfelt singing -- but it also proved perfect for the mellow, psychedelic experimentation of Michio. He didn't try to steal the show by any means, mostly opting for pleasant noise and soft, interesting atmosphere, but when he did step up and solo, the set was his. His squealing guitar adds a new, exciting dynamic to the duo, and live, it came through with more volume and power. Never was this clearer than on set closer "Stars Never Fade," a mid-tempo rocker, which means up tempo for this group. Mostly, Michio sat back in his atmospherics while Naomi delivered her most stunning vocal performance of the evening. When Michio did step into the fore, it was maybe his least experimental performance of the evening, just great rock and roll guitar to ride out the set, making the song reminiscent of Yo La Tengo love songs.
Michio took a break, then took the stage again, bolstering the trio Boris as he did on recent LP "Rainbow." That album and this set opened with "Rafflesia." Like prior record "Pink's" opener, "Farewell," "Rafflesia" built slowly. It was shoegaze and drone and a long, slow crescendo ending with Michio and Takeshi's guitars swirling around each other. And the smoke machine effect was stunning. It was a thicker cloud than I've ever seen at the Black Cat with a few colored lights highlighting it and casting drummer Atsuo as an imposing, lanky shadow in front of an anxious gong. Boris fans anxious for a burst of punk energy were rocking back on their heels waiting for it, but the band postponed it, continuing to play "Rainbow" in sequence, moving into the album's title track, an unexpected slow, quiet groove with Wata taking a delicate turn at the mic. Then with "Starship Narrator," things begin to build. The song led the set out of the haze, opening with bluesy cock rock and evolving into amped up psychedelia, and Atsuo attacked the gong for the first time. Michio really strutted for the first time here, showing off his psych rock fretwork, allowed to stretch out more than he does with Ghost.
Then the wait was over. Boris broke from "Rainbow" to play the title track from "Pink," a scorching punk-metal assault. And the Damon & Naomi fans began to flee. All of a sudden, the full-throttle rock overwhelmed them and they retreated to the back of the room, turned back to the stage for a moment, then left. Another high-octane psych rocker continued to weed out the soft of ear while revving up the rest of the room. But as exciting as the onslaughts were, they weren't as exhilarating as the more atmospheric and pretty psychedelics the band addressed. In mid-set, another unexpected moment came with an ambient and arena-ready psych rock that also provided the poppiest sounds of the night. A Boris power ballad?
Toward the end of the set, the band paired a couple of extended jams. Like this set, the songs themselves were dynamic journeys, but the band did hang on to some of those jams a bit too long before changing direction. After Atsuo surrendered his sticks near the end of the latter song, "Just Abandoned My-Self," he stood high above his kit and pointed into the crowd. As incredible as Michio's playing had been, and as much as it had helped Boris travel through new territory, it was ultimately Atsuo's show, for his skill, showmanship and constant exhorting of the crowd. He climbed over his kit and took the crowd for a surf while guitars churned the song to a finish. Up in the rafters, Atsuo swung back to the stage and climbed back over the kit. Predictably, the band closed the set with "Farewell," and it was the highlight, that combination of power and beauty so unique to Boris and so well executed. Mind blowing stuff. And the band continued that, encoring with one more pretty song, starting slow, quiet and sparse with another tender vocal turn from Wata, then crescendoing into that ambient shoegaze-metal one last time.