Melvins and Boris
Great American Music Hall, San Francisco
August 27, 2023
Photos by Raymond Ahner
When Melvins and Boris, two of the biggest names in metal, announced a co-headlining tour I knew I had to go. While I admittedly wasn’t incredibly familiar with the Melvins’ output, I had been wanting to see the Japanese band Boris for almost a decade, but had missed them every time they had come through. I knew that I couldn’t make that mistake again.
The first co-headliner was the legendary sludge metal band Melvins. Consisting of constant frontman and guitarist Buzz Osborne, bassist Steven Shane McDonald, and Coady Willis on drums (filling in for Dale Crover), the band took the stage as “Take On Me” by a-ha played over the PA. Soon Buzz began playing the opening riff of “Ligature” from the band’s seminal 1991 album Bullhead. A highlight of the evening was that both co-headlining bands were advertised to play one of their albums in full, and Bullhead was the one by Melvins.
And holy shit. Melvins played the songs perfectly, adding more roughness around the edges of each song. Particularly noteworthy was drummer Coady Willis. Unfortunately Dale Crover had to have emergency spinal surgery so he was unable to play on this tour. But believe me, Willis was an absolute juggernaut throughout the entire set. I’ve seen my fair share of intense shows and intense drummers, but I have never seen someone epitomize the word “pounding” as accurately as he did throughout the set.
Sprinkled throughout the set were glimpses into other Melvins albums as well: “Revolve” from Stoner Witch, “A History Of Bad Men” from (A) Senile Animal, and “Night Goat” and “Honey Bucket” from Houdini were all played towards the end of the set, after the band had exhausted most of the material from Bullhead. When a band does a full album and then keeps performing material from the rest of their career, there’s always the risk that the other material will clash with what had come before. This was not the case. All four songs fit perfectly with what had come before.
And then there was the final song of the set. Despite “Boris” being the opening song of Bullhead, it was played last. Buzz, Steven, and Coady tore through the song with fury, until halfway through Steven and Coady stopped, waved at the audience, and left the stage, leaving just Buzz there. With guitar in hand, he spit out the lines, “See Boris has a way of seeing through my eyes / He touches in a fashion, a master of mime.” Soon he slowed down before growling out the final line. “Let ’em run.” He stopped. The crowd erupted. Buzz left the stage, leaving the crowd wanting more.
Half an hour later, the band who named themselves after that song, Boris, walked onstage. Consisting of bassist and vocalist Takeshi, guitarist Wata, and drummer and vocalist Atsuo, the album that Boris was advertised to play was their acclaimed 2002 album Heavy Rocks (not to be confused with their 2011 album Heavy Rocks or their 2022 album Heavy Rocks). Wata began playing the opening song on the album, “Heavy Friends,” before Takeshi, armed with a double neck guitar/bass combo, and Atsuo joined in, immediately pummeling the audience in the face with the aural assault.
Six Orange amps sat behind Wata and Takeshi, as well as a massive bass amp, creating a wall of noise. I had been warned by multiple people before the show to wear earplugs during Boris’ set, and I’m so glad that I took their advice; despite leaving them in for the entire set, the wall of noise was still jarring.
Unlike Melvins’ approach to mix around the order of the songs from Bullhead, Boris played straight through Heavy Rocks, opening with “Heavy Friends” and closing their main set with “1970,” the final song on the album. Each song was more intense and jarring than the recorded versions, so fans of the band were not leaving disappointed.
After a short encore break, the band retook the stage. Atsuo, sitting behind his drum kit, told the audience how important the Melvins were to the formation of Boris and also his own evolution as a musician. And then, without further ado, the band played a cover of their namesake song. That’s right: for the second time that night, the audience was treated to “Boris.” Boris’ version wasn’t as jarring and doom-laden, the band sounding more fuzzed out than anything. Atsuo took lead vocals for the song, and once it ended the audience burst into applause. Melvins and Boris were a match made in heaven. Or hell, if you’re into metal music.
Opener Mr. Phylzzz, a two-piece hailing from Chicago, perfectly set the stage for what was going to come throughout the rest of the evening. Sandwiched somewhere between hardcore punk, garage rock, and doom metal, Clinton Jacobs ripped through the songs on his guitar and intense voice like there was no tomorrow dressed in a suit and tie. Danny Sein on drums was also a force of nature, seemingly never once stopping drumming. Towards the end of their set, Clinton’s finger was shredded open on his guitar before rubbing the blood all over his face, adding even more intensity to what was a blistering set.
Here’s more photos of all three bands by Raymond Ahner: