Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Show Review: Russian Circles with KEN Mode and Inter Arma

Russian Circles at Cat's Cradle
KEN Mode left a good impression. Long, sweaty, stringy hair on the guitarists flew between screaming vocals and sludgy riffs. The drummer really impressed me, varying sticks and time signatures easily. Canadian hardcore isn't a genre I'm seasoned in, but it was obvious they knew what they were doing from stage presence to execution. The band has gained notable recognition, especially in the past few years with an exhaustive tour supporting Venerable and being a Juno award, in addition to a nomination at the Western Canadian Music Awards and being on the 40-album longlist for the 2013 Polaris Music Prize (ultimately won by Godspeed You! Black Emperor for Allelujah! Don't Bend! Ascend!).

The lights blacked out. Shortly after, a feedback-laden loop played, entrancing the audience until it was impossible to know how much time had passed. That's one thing I love about these kinds of shows. Typically, bands have openers to prep the audience for the big act of the night, so the mood is already set for the headliner, the audience is awake and excited; it's go time for the main act. Russian Circles was able to re-calibrate and wield any energy in the room, bringing everyone back to the same focal point. If you've seen Godspeed You! Black Emperor, it was a similar intro and feeling. The band walked out onto the foggy stage and ripped it open. The backlighting highlighted the band's profiles instruments' blurred silhouettes, a fan was blowing on the drummer accentuating each hard hit to his kit. Playing through their thick catalog, the band went through various guitars and basses manipulated by a hefty (and highly custom-made) pedalboard. They made great use of sampling, looping and layering to create a truly impressive live performance, elaborating on their recorded songs.

Russian Circles' pedalboard
There was one moment in particular that felt like the audience had just plummeted out of a sensory deprivation tank -- an abrupt switch from melodic darkness to the stage's white lights hi-beaming everyone straight in the pupils, paired  simultaneously with chunky shredding. It was loud, as was expected, and my ears rang into the following day. During the show, the notes seemed to blast at you, swim to you, and linger around you mid-air. Again, this was actually quite possible consider how high everything was turned up, but the delay and reverb created an incredible atmosphere. Later on and a substantial set under their belt, they set down their instruments and walked off, immediately cueing the "one more song" chants while the guys finished their beers backstage. Momentarily they were back and played my absolute favorite Russian Circles song, "Youngblood," from their 2008 album Station. Filled with taps that make your spine tingle, the song was extremely powerful live. The audience fell into a rhythm and moved as one. Without any inkling of stage banter the entire night, the band humbly smiled and waved goodbye.
It was a Monday night but didn't feel like it. My only complaint of the night was the crowd. For being fairly scene-heavy, there was a lot of chatter during quiet parts which you just don't do at a post rock show. This genre provides an experience versus the cut and dry division of songs that calls for no interruptions or jumping the gun on clapping, despite good intentions of praise. In fact, I've seen people get shushed before and dirty looks cast at cell phones going off. Along with that, this wasn't a type of show you yell out requests at. The set was consciously well-crafted as is. Rocking out is cool, moshing can be appropriate, but taking it to torpedoing across the crowd Raiden style isn't. Luckily these complaints address a limited group, but it was distracting. All that aside, it was a phenomenal night and I hope to see Russian Circles again. 

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