Heavy Friends: Boris and Mr. Phylzzz at Red Flag | 09.09.23, Red Flag (with photo gallery)

Photo of Atsuo of Boris by Zach Johnson

The skeptical and the devout convened for an evening of amplifier worship as the incomparable Boris made their Red Flag debut, joined by Chicago noise rock mavericks Mr. Phylzzz. Boris is currently on a co-headlining US tour with the pioneering sludge metal band Melvins; unfortunately, Melvins had to pull out of the St. Louis date of the tour due to scheduling issues with drummer Coady Willis, who is filling in for original drummer Dale Crover after he underwent emergency spinal surgery earlier this summer. (Per the Melvins’ social media accounts: “We regret to announce that we are not able to make the St. Louis show on September 9. Coady, who has been utterly heroic in taking Dale’s place on the tour, has to fulfill a prior commitment and we were unable to figure out another arrangement… Dale is recovering and doing well.”) Although the Melvins’ absence certainly made the evening bittersweet—this co-headlining tour with two of the most influential bands in stoner/sludge metal truly feels like a historic lineup—Boris alone would easily justify a full-price ticket on any other night, so I was ultimately grateful for the bands’ professionalism in continuing ahead with the show.

Although the Melvins may not have been there in person, their spirit of weirdness was certainly channeled through the very impressive opener, Mr. Phylzzz (whose name is apparently pronounced like “Mr. Files”). The two-member band made an immediate impression, taking the stage dressed in suits as “…Baby One More Time” played over the venue sound system, before launching into 30 raucous minutes of cacophony. This impressively loud Chicago-based band is a duo consisting of vocalist and guitarist Clinton Vearil, who talks in a squeaky, Pee Wee Herman-esque falsetto, and drummer Danny Sein. (“You know, a lot of bands have bassists… But I have Danny, and that’s enough,” said Vearil during the set.) Any successful rock duo has to bring an immense amount of energy and personality to overcome the limitations of a two-member lineup—the obvious points of reference being bands like the White Stripes and Japandroids—and Mr. Phylzzz achieves this in an endearingly unique way. Vearil’s quips were frequently hilarious, describing one incredibly noisy and chaotic song as “an old Chicago jazz number we’re trying to get in everyone’s ear” (the song did actually segue into what seemed like an improvised jazz rhythm), and introducing another song with “This song’s about riding in a Pontiac Grand Am and having a damn good time”.    

Like the Melvins, the band is currently signed to Amphetamine Reptile, an independent label best known for putting out records by post-hardcore and noise rock bands like Today Is the Day, Cows, and Unsane in the ‘80s and ‘90s, and it was easy to see why this band was picked as the opening act for the tour. Although I did enjoy listening to the band’s two studio albums before the show (Cancel Culture Club and Fat Chance), I think this is a group you really need to see live to fully appreciate.

“I liked Mr. Phylllz,” said John of St. Louis City. “They had the right swagger for a duo. I liked one or two songs, and then it was a bit of a one-trick pony for me. But that’s alright, I’m not going to judge it. They were enthusiastic, funny, and weird. The singer reminded me of Andy Kaufman, with the high-pitched voice. This guy in the crowd turned around and said to me ‘It’s like White Stripes on acid!’”

“They actually blew me away,” said Matt of South City. “The frontman had really fucking great energy. They were hilarious, him and the drummer in their white collar getup.”

The weirdness of Phylzzz transitioned nicely into the grace of Boris, impeccably dressed in their usual all-black attire. The incredible poise and energy of these musicians never fails to impress me—there is a trancelike effect when the band takes the stage, as guitarists Wata and Takeshi begin drawing out rumbling chords from their signature Orange amplifiers while drummer Atsuo attacks the gong. It is a one-of-a-kind rock and roll ritual, and although I have been to every one of Boris’ St. Louis dates for their previous headlining tours, I can confidently say that no one of their shows feels the same.

For their 2023 tour, Boris is playing the entirety of their third album, 2002’s Heavy Rocks—which is not to be confused with their 2012 and 2022 Heavy Rocks albums, all completely different releases. This album served as something of a transition for this restlessly experimental band, following the bone-shaking drone metal of their debut album, Amplifier Worship, and the mellow, aquatic post-rock of their second release, Flood (my personal favorite Boris record). By comparison, the appropriately titled Heavy Rocks adopts a somewhat more straight-ahead stoner/doom metal song structure compared to their previous albums, with a few doses of their trademark droning heaviness thrown in for good measure.

The contrast between the aggressive speed of songs like “Wareuido” and “Dyna-Soar” and Heavy Rocks’ occasional drone detours made for an incredibly engaging and dynamic live experience, with great showcases for each member throughout. There is the always impressive elegance and subtle badassery of lead guitarist Wata, who treated the crowd to some of her most beautiful solos during songs like “Soft Edge.” Takeshi, who pulls double duty as the bassist and rhythm guitarist thanks to his trademark double neck guitar, had his opportunity to shine during the extended bass solos for “The Bell Tower of a Sign” and “Rattlesnake.” Add to that drummer Atsuo’s intense rockstar energy—these are musicians that absolutely ooze coolness, and it is always a delight to witness.

“Boris is one of those bands whose discography is so dynamic from album to album. Always so technical, always so noisy,” said Matt of South City. “It really is ‘amplifier worship.’ That huge pile of Orange amplifiers, that double neck guitar, that fucking gong, all the tools and hardware they have in their setup, it’s excellent. They’re all as talkative as they need to be, they’ve been doing this for so long and they’re still up their fist bumping people in the crowd. It’s endearing.”

After wrapping up their Heavy Rocks set, Boris played one more song—the crushingly beautiful “Farewell” from the album Pink—before returning for an encore performance of “Boris,” the Melvins song that served as the inspiration for their name. Playing a combined encore with the supporting act is a long-time Boris tradition, and on other dates of this year’s tour, Boris and Melvins have been closing the show with a combined performance of the song. Although Melvins were absent from the St. Louis date, the band’s take on the hilariously lumbering song was instantly iconic, and a fitting tribute to their idols, especially given the personal hardships they’ve endured recently.

The Melvins’ absence was certainly disappointment for many in the crowd—as is often the case with co-headlining tours, there was clearly a “Boris camp” and a “Melvins camp” in the audience, and there were a few cranky Gen-Xers in Faith No More and Helmet shirts who bristled when I tried to get audience quotes from them after the show (“I’ve got a quote for you—where the fuck are the Melvins?” said one unnamed source). Despite that, I also found several Melvins fans who considered themselves enthusiastic Boris converts after last week’s show.

“This morning, I went online and saw that the Melvins were canceling, and I was like ‘oh, shit’,” said John of St. Louis City. “But then I decided, ‘Well, I’ll listen to Boris and see what they’re about.’ So I went on Spotify and I listened to [Heavy Rocks], and then I took a walk and kept listening to it, and I found myself walking faster and faster, and I’m like, ‘This fucking rocks! This is great.’ I just really needed a cathartic music experience, it’s been a while since something this heavy came through that I wanted to see… I really loved that last song they played [“Farewell”], very dreamy and heavy. I drew some comparisons to Smashing Pumpkins, My Bloody Valentine, things like that, which I love. You can drone all day, I’ll just eat it up. I loved it, I thought it was great, I would love to see them again!”

The Melvins and Boris 2023 tour will continue through mid-October, where it will end with a set at the House of Blues in San Diego on October 14th. Note that Melvins are also pulling out of the October 13th tour date at the Marquee Theater in Tempe, AZ—but pending any other scheduling difficulties, you will be able to catch the full “Twins of Evil” tour at any of its other upcoming dates. | David Von Nordheim

Melvins + Boris “Twins of Evil” 2023 Tour

09.21 — Philadelphia, PA @ Brooklyn Bowl

09.22 — Washington, D.C. @ The Howard Theatre

09.23 — Virginia Beach, VA @ Elevation 27

09.24 — Carrboro, NC @ Cat’s Cradle

09.26 — Nashville, TN @ Brooklyn Bowl

09.27 — Atlanta, GA @ Variety Playhouse

09.28 — Savannah, GA @ District Live

09.29 — Birmingham, AL @ Saturn

09.30 — New Orleans, LA @ Tipitina’s

10.02 — Houston, TX @ Warehouse Live – Studio

10.03 — Austin, TX @ Mohawk

10.04 — Dallas, TX @ Granada Theater

10.05 — Oklahoma City, OK @ Beer City Music Hall

10.06 — Tulsa, OK @ Cain’s Ballroom

10.07 — Lawrence, KS @ The Bottleneck

10.09 — Denver, CO @ Summit

10.11 — Albuquerque, NM @ Sunshine Theater

10.13 — Tempe, AZ @ Marquee Theatre

10.14 — San Diego, CA @ House of Blues

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