For riff-fetishists you won’t get much better bills than Isis, Boris and Oxbow, a primal gathering of guitar gods in a London lashed by thunderstorms. The weather forces plane delays and knocks out rail power-lines, conspiring against me arriving in time to catch Oxbow (although I learn on arrival that Oxbow’s Eugene Robinson and Niko Wenner actually played as Love’s Holiday, an acoustic version of Oxbow). The acoustic nature of their performance apparently doesn’t stop Eugene ending up in vest & underpants, abusing a microphone stand and threatening to punch audience members, but the addition of a cellist does momentarily distract from Eugene’s love/hate muscle.

Just as the Japanese assimilated then bettered Western technology during the “economic miracle”, so too have Boris absorbed a history of hard rock and now spew it back at us leaner & meaner but encased in a thick layer of sludge. Boris start with the awesome “Farewell”, Wata & Takeshi both sending out slabs of distorted guitar, sounding like a tranquilized My Bloody Valentine. Takeshi sports a double-necked guitar/bass, playing it with dexterity, but it is the slight Wata who amazes with her playing, her squalls and riffs precise, controlled and fuckin’ heavy. She barely moves, and it is drummer Atsuo who is the showman, whooping & yeahing into his headset mic, pulling rock poses in his white gloves and theatrically beating on the huge gong strung up behind him.
They end with the almighty “Just Abondoned My-Self”, the most ‘metal’ song of their set, during which Atsuo jumps onto his bass drum, then clambers up a speaker stack, waiting for a spotlight to find him before launching himself into the crowd. He surfs the sea of hands a good twenty rows back before being returned to the stage, his bandmates all the while filling the room with a Sunn O)))-like doomdrone.

Boris live @ Koko (02-07-2007)

I’m not steeped enough in Boris (urgghh) to be able to recognise all their songs (in fact I cooly asked the Boris merch stall bishoujo which album the last song they played is on, convinced I hadn’t heard it before, only to be pointed to “Pink” which I have heard many times…), but I have it from a reliable source that the setlist was as follows (almost everything coming from “Pink”):

Setlist: Boris @ Koko (02 June 2007)
Woman On The Screen
Just Abondoned My-Self

Isis live @ Koko (02-07-2006)It’s time for Isis, and a long sample of weird vocal chanting plays before the band take to the stage. They open with the rolling drums of “Wrists Of Kings”, which builds and builds to its towering finale, then follow the running order of “In The Absence Of Truth” with “Not In Rivers, But In Drops”. Here bassist Jeff Caxide gets to flip the switch on his amp marked “Robert Smith” for that underwater bass sound so beloved of The Cure. In fact, much of “In The Absence Of Truth” reminds of The Cure’s “Disintegration”, but I digress…
Caxide switches the bass back to its “Godflesh” setting, and Isis launch the full-frontal assault of “So Did We”, a song which as it switches down a gear gives me clarity on why I like this band so much: apart from their mastery of the riff, it’s Aaron Harris’s beats that power through the noise giving economical yet powerful forward motion to the songs. In an “Absence…”-heavy set, “Dulcinea” follows all submerged bass & polyrhythms, and one of the highlights of the night for me. Harris again outdoes himself on this, sounding like there are three drummers pounding away in tribal delirium. The following songs all build up to a crushingly heavy mountain-raising riff at some point – “Holy Tears” in particular sounding far heavier live than on record – but all with long passages of celestial or submarine space to counteract the guitar maelstrom and Aaron Turner’s throat-rasping, (unfortunately) unintelligible vocals. The set ends with the epic, rhythmic “The Beginning And The End”, drummer Harris once again combining with Turner, Caxide and Michael Gallagher’s three-pronged guitar onslaught to create something elemental, unstoppable, like a lava flow – serenaded by a choir of angels thanks to the ‘electronics’ of Bryant Meyer.

Isis live @ Koko (02-07-2006)

For the encore, the band play an extended instrumental jam (sorry, I hate that word, but can’t at the moment think of anything more appropriate) during which Oxbow’s Eugene Robinson (with his clothes back on) swaggers menacingly onto stage, gives a few menacing growls and yelps, before slinking menacingly back off stage. Isis then build up a drone as the prelude to one of their earliest and heaviest songs, the rifftasm of “Celestial (The Tower)” which eventually decays into psychedelic keyboard swirls and washes of overdriven guitar… and it’s over. It’s the end of a seven-week tour for Isis, the end of a whirlwind day for me, and every one leaves into the wet London night having truly rocked out.

Setlist: Isis @ Koko, London (02 July 2007)
Wrists Of Kings
Not In Rivers, But In Drops
So Did We
In Fiction
All Out Of Time, All Into Space
Holy Tears
The Beginning And The End
jam (w/ Eugene Robinson)
Celestial (The Tower)

Here is a blistering version of “So Did We”, live at the Launchpad, Albuquereque, New Mexico (taken from “Live 3 (12.17.04)”)

Isis – So Did We (live in Alberquerque, 17-Dec-2004)

You can buy Isis recordings direct from their store here. Boris recordings are available from Inoxia Records. Oxbow albums can be purchased here.

See some photos of the gig on Damon Allen Davison’s Flickr page. dennisstempher has some great Boris shots from their performance in Tilburg, Holland on Flickr here.