BOOGARINS + JJUUJJUU @ THE BOOTLEG
Photos by Stephanie Port Words by Chris Kissel
As “psychedelic rock,” per se, continues to edify — a sound defined by zig-zagging guitars, stomping bass and drums, varying degrees of wheezing synths — Brazil’s Boogarins forge a different path.
Boogarins’ sound is rooted in the same heavy-lidded grooves as bands like the Black Angels or Temples, while mixing in rhythmic and harmonic elements of Brazilian Tropicália. (They sing exclusively in Portuguese.) But Boogarins, especially in the years since the band’s 2013 debut, have grown in fascinating, sophisticated ways that most bands of their ilk have not.
This sound — heavy but free, influenced significantly by the flavor of jazz — was on display on last night at the Bootleg Bar Stage, as was a presentation that matched the urgency of the sound.
The show started with an opening set from local favorites JJUUJJUU — sleepy, droney, ideal for rolling one’s head around on their neck. Drummer Ryan Knights’ thundering drums largely drove the set, over which guitar and bass trudged and wailed. Frontman Phil Pirrone is also notable, of course, for organizing the Desert Daze rock festival; his announcement he’d be sharing some Desert Daze news soon was greeted with warm cheers. JJUUJJUU’s sound is a pretty straight-ahead instance of what you’s call psych-rock — not a bad set-up for the stylistic departures of Boogarins.
Boogarins are often enough lumped in with their psych rock peers, but last night’s set catered to anyone but no one. In particular, songs from the band’s 2015 record MANUAL sparkled. The knotty “Tempo” moved easily from delicate finger-plucked chords to craggy riffs; “6000 Dias” highlighted the band’s ability to ride moments both quiet and intense over subtle, swinging rhythms. (“What matters to me is to be/ Not to have,” frontman and rhythm guitarist Dinho Almeida sings on “6000 Dias,” in Portuguese.) Almeida and fellow guitarist Benke Ferraz are as indebted to players like Wes Montgomery, John McLaughlin and even Mark Knopfler as they are to Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil.
Boogarins don’t sacrifice the stage to their musical adeptness, either. For instance, during a half-minute or so of silence that interrupted an early song in the set, Almeida clicked his teeth into the microphone and spun his eyes around the room, a sly smile creeping across his face. He suddenly seemed stoned, or angry, or playful. It was hard to tell, and a little awkward, too, and it added an element of unpredictability to the rest of the set.
It’s thrilling enough to watch the band function as a unit. Almeida and Ferraz tossed chords back and forth while drummer Ynaiã Benthroldo grooved i an way that recalled bossa nova and bop. The set’s final stretch incorporated both a climactic, repetitive build — touched by melancholy, quite grandiose and melodic — and an extended improvisation in which Almeida scatted over a hip hop-style beat laid down by Benthroldo.
At their worst, Boogarins can sound a bit like Tame Impala, especially on the new material. (A new EP, La Vem a Morte, or There Goes Death, was released just two days before the show.) In some of those cases, harmonic invention — in particular the sublime flowing and crashing of Almeida’s clean jazz chords — takes a back seat to heavier, funkier beats. And too often the band follows those old tropes — the zig-zagging guitars, the wheezing synths — to their own detriment. They do a few amazing things no other bands do; why water it down with more tricks of the trade?
One of the coolest things about Boogarins is that they’ve managed to avoid some big compromises. Their refusal to sing in English, which would allow them better access the international music market, has earned the band adulation at home but could cost them a greater audience abroad. Props to them for sticking by their guns. Let’s hope they don’t compromise on their sound, either, and instead continue leaning into the unpredictability and idiosyncratic musicianship that, at this point, make them a very thrilling live band to watch.