Live: The Boredoms' Drum-Circle Clusterfuck
Photo by Rebecca Smeyne, more here
Brooklyn Bridge Park
July 7, 2007
Something had to go wrong. A band can't stage something as grandly, magnificently quixotic as the Boredoms' 7/7/07 77-drummer monstrosity without fucking something up, even if it wasn't their fuckup. And so thousands of people ended up getting shut out of the free show, even though there was still plenty of room left in Brooklyn Bridge Park after security stopped letting people in. When I got off the York Street subway stop around three on Saturday, the line outside the event was already absurdly, biblically long, maybe a half-mile, some real Woodstock shit. I started to feel a bit bad for Built to Spill and Cat Power because I couldn't imagine who'd be left to show up at their McCarren Park show. Walking the length of the line, I was amazed that this many people even knew who the Boredoms were. The organizers must've had no idea that such a crowd would show up; they seemed completely overwhelmed. When I said I was press, the people at the gate let me in right away with no problems; no one asked for my name or anything. And then when I got in, everything was amazing. The space is beautiful: a thin strip of grass between two bridges, all these enormous edifices splayed out around us, the sort of place that looks serene and peaceful even with all the weird noises that came out of it on Saturday. Some people who couldn't get in watched from a nearby pier. A couple of people rowed out on a boat right next to the park. My friend Alison joined a contingent that watched everything from the Brooklyn Bridge's pedestrian walkway; she says she could hear everything perfectly. I felt really bad for the people who got shut out of it; those of us who made it in saw some shit.
The scale of this thing was mind-boggling; it's pretty amazing that they even pulled it off at all. Somehow, the Boredoms managed to combine everything from their considerable list of obsessions: sun, water, drums, spirals, the number seven. The 77 drummers were all arranged in a spiral that led out from the tiny stage that held the four Boredoms. Different section leaders were scattered all through the spiral, though it wasn't really visually obvious who was a leader and who wasn't. Other than the four Boredoms, all the drummers were on the ground, on the same level as the spectators. Since we couldn't really see the spiral from the ground, it just looked like a jumbled chaos of drummers in a vague circle shape. I couldn't pick out any of the better-known drummers (Andrew WK, Brian Chippendale), and I couldn't tell which drummers were sitting closest to me even after scrutinizing the program that someone handed me at the gate. There was a big VIP area with free Sparks and Sapporo, and the music didn't start until a few hours after doors opened, so I was good and buzzed by the time anyone actually hit a drum. Supposedly, First Nation and Soft Circle both opened, but I didn't see either one; I feel like I must've spent both sets waiting in the gargantuan bathroom line. And when the music actually started, the assembled drummers spent a good ten minutes just teasing us before blasting into it, starting with a long cymbal roll and then gradually building into some massive tom-thumps. And then the insanity began.
Since it was all one piece, and since some of it must've been improvised (it went way past its planned 77-minute running-time), it's hard to use normal music-critic terms to describe what Saturday evening sounded like. When I saw the Boredoms at Webster Hall last year, the sound was overwhelming with just three drummers and Eye doing crazy shit with his experimental synths. At this thing, it didn't really sound like much of anything I've ever heard. Eye stood in the middle of it, conducting, whooping wordless exhortations into his mic, and bashing on these huge horizontal xylophone-looking metal planks that emitted huge synth-drone noises whenever he hit them. Those things were loud; they practically drowned out all the drummers surrounding them. At one point, he waved around a pink plastic stick. At another, I'm pretty sure he held up a fucking trident, though I couldn't see it clearly enough to be absolutely certain. The other three Boredoms would start out playing a drum figure, and then the different drummers would gradually pick it up. It would spiral out from the center, and by the time it reached the edge, the people in the center would be playing something else. And so the music would stretch and distend and waver; it was really disorienting and hard to describe. I didn't take a lot of notes, mostly because I was just jumping around like a little kid; I couldn't believe that this was happening and that I got to be there for it. Sightseeing cruise-ships out on the river actually slowed down to watch it. I kept thinking about what the people on those boats must be thinking. Or the people on driving over the bridges, if they noticed what was going on and rolled their windows down.
I don't usually really notice drummers unless they're fucking up or something. They sit at the back of the stage and stay hidden behind their instruments. I didn't really recognize any of the drummers walking around in the park before the performance started, probably because they're drummers. But on Saturday, the drummers got their day. We got to hear what it sounded like when a whole bunch of them got together to engage in some orchestrated chaos, and it sounded like the end of the world.