By Gareth Watkins
CALGARY — Russian Circles are one of those bands you can listen to late at night with a glass of wine and a good book. They can soundtrack your morning jog or make an afternoon at work sound like the closing moments of the greatest film never made. The Chicago-based trio have the same something that distinguishes the best in post-rock from mere long songs without lyrics: that cinematic quality, the sense when you play their songs that something huge and significant is happening in a movie starring You.
That feeling is hard to translate in the live setting, where the mise-en-scène is three or more musicians staring at a bank of effects pedals the size of a family sedan and the diegetic sound is some bro on his phone complaining “there isn’t any singing.“ Brian Cook, Russian Circles’ bassist, knows a thing about putting on a compelling live show: he was formerly part of mathcore legends Botch and These Arms Are Snakes.
“With those bands a big part of the show was the audience, and relying on having an energetic reaction with the audience,” he says. “With Russian Circles it’s really just trying to create a live show that feels like an experience. We’re more interested in creating a set that feels like an continuous piece that you can just lose yourself in and not worry about getting kicked in the head or have somebody spill their beer on you.”
The band plays largely in the dark, often with bright lights behind them so that they appear as silhouettes. That, to them, is punk: “There’s maybe some vestiges of our DIY punk background in us creating a show where we create a show where we aren’t doing stage moves and bad rock-talk banter.”
They avoid talking to the crowd except when absolutely necessary, therefore to shut down some drunk asshole’s behavior or simply to verbally acknowledge that they’ve played to a particularly great audience that night (so if we get a ‘goodnight Calgary’ we’re doing well). They aren’t looking to position themselves as untouchable, unapproachable Artists-with-a-capital-A, just doing what they can to let the music speak for itself: no fog machines, lasers or 12-inch high Stonehenge’s necessary, just layers upon layers of music courtesy of effects and loop pedals, along with samples.
Here in Calgary we have the privilege of hearing them at the tail end of a year-long tour, when the songs on Memorial have been road-tested. The record itself is heavier than their previous four full-length efforts, featuring chord progressions reminiscent of black metal. Cook says that every time they set out to write they aim to create a mood that is “wretched and oppressive,” so our corpse-painted friends have something to grasp in their talons. They even have a small part for vocals for the first time, courtesy of Chelsea Wolfe, a goth chanteuse that the metal world has largely embraced as one of its own.
A Russian Circles show won’t be like anything else coming up in our tight-knit community of 1.2 million lost souls and oil and gas accountants. If you want an experience, instead of just a show, you’ll be there.
See Russian Circles at the Palomino Smokehouse and Bar with the Atlas Moth on Saturday, September 20.AB, Alberta, Palomino, Russian Circles