Boredoms' free Friday night concert at the La Brea Tar Pits was probably the second-most impressive percussion-centric event in the world that evening. But it's a testament to the wild ambitions of Boredoms' founder, Yamatsuka Eye, and the 88 drummers who joined him for a new avant-garde symphony, "88 BoaDrum," that it took the opening ceremonies of the Beijing Olympics to overshadow the Japanese art-punk ensemble.
"88 BoaDrum" arrived on the numerologically auspicious heels of last year's "77 BoaDrum," held in New York's Empire-Fulton Ferry State Park on July 7, 2007, where Eye and Boredoms' three full-time drummers recruited 73 local percussionists, many in popular experimental rock bands, to accompany a similar, 77-minute new work. This year's version upped the degree of difficulty and the length of the sprawling new piece by 11 minutes.
Eye and his band led the Los Angeles debut of "88 BoaDrum," while the New York-based experimental quartet Gang Gang Dance led the identical piece in New York on the same night.
L.A. has not been a town for unhinged concert behavior lately, but the unchecked giddiness of the thousands splayed across the hills of the lawn outside the Page Museum couldn't have been due only to the copious joints being passed through the audience.
Boredoms' task of enlisting 85 competent drummers to play a largely unrehearsed work proved easier than it sounds, involving something almost akin to a series of sleeper cells for percussionists. A central group of Boredoms' associates (spearheaded by "BoaDrum" coordinator, Japanese-speaking liaison drummer Hisham Akira Bharoocha of the band Soft Circle) each recruited subgroups of drummers who are based in L.A. or who could travel that day, then arranged them in a spiral around Boredoms' members on the lawn at the Tar Pits.
Dan Rowan, of the L.A.-based all-drum quartet Foot Village, was one who made the cut.
"We knew Warren [Huegel] from [the San Francisco band] Tussle, and he's in the inner circle of this," he said. "I heard stories about losers with managers calling up Boredoms and saying, 'You have to let us be in this.' "
Fans of Modest Mouse, Hella, Jawbreaker and Hole would have recognized those bands' percussionists in the throng, along with at least one representative from nearly every local indie rock outfit of note. The lineup was also notably gender-integrated, with drummers from Mika Miko, Unwound and Erase Errata, plus many other women in prominent section spots. The sub-group leaders had a few days to practice the piece, but most drummers had only that day to sharpen their chops for the evening.
"It was a little chaotic, but they wanted chaos," said Aaron Sperske, of the recently reunited L.A. psych-country group Beachwood Sparks. "It was about one-third drummers and two-thirds people who knew how to play drums. If this were a summer camp, you could already see who would hang and who would be left out. It'd be like 'Meatballs.' "
There was something deeply appropriate about hosting the concert at the Tar Pits, as there's a primeval, almost geologic power to that much percussion. The show began promptly at 8:08 p.m., with a minutes-long cymbal swell beginning on Boredoms' central stage and spilling out into the spiral. The swell soon built into a cacophonous free-for-all of fills that surely sent the residents of the nearby Park La Brea Apartments scrambling to their windows to see if J.J. Abrams was filming a " Cloverfield" sequel nearby.
The rest of the piece moved with surprising synchronicity through passages reminiscent of everything from Led Zeppelin to Indian ragas, '90s drum-and-bass and Neu!-esque krautrock. At the center of the stage, Eye howled and conducted with unhinged vigor, cuing the "BoaDrum" equivalent of page turns with an enormous wand that doubled as a drumstick for triggering samples on a giant bank of synthesizers.
Fans were free to wander, as the audience was arranged in the round. One elderly man led a gaggle of scruffy twentysomethings in a full-body convulsion dance, while across the field, a lone woman hula-hooped with singular commitment and a man hawked his silk-screen art prints. True to the hippie-ish nature of any drum circle, one hot rumor going around "BoaDrum" suggested that the end of the L.A. spiral connected in a straight line with the end of the New York spiral to form -- yes -- the number 8.
"88 BoaDrum" was divided into three movements, and each of the groups' transitional points was like watching a tank make a U-turn: a bit cumbersome and unwieldy, but fearsome once it got rolling. Instead of a bombastic finale, "88 BoaDrum" ended much as it started, with the ensemble's marital rhythms dissolving inward until the three Boredoms drummers ceased after a final cymbal trill.
Although the "BoaDrum" arrangement was exhilarating and exhausting even for the audience, most of the drummers greeted friends on the lawn with huge smiles, as if the heavens (and numbers) had aligned just for them on this night.
"I feel totally fine," Bharoocha said immediately after the show, as he fielded a dozen well-wishing handshakes in both English and Japanese. "The piece feels smaller than you think after all the planning."