We had the great pleasure of attending the Chicago date of Russian Circles’ summer U.S. headline tour with Chelsea Wolfe and Marriages. The show was absolutely awesome since it was not only a great tour package, but all Russian Circles’ homecoming show and as expected, it was SOLD OUT! Check out our review after the break.
Hometown shows are always a bit of a mess, and the Russian Circles show was no different. My buddies and I got to the sold out Lincoln Hall at about 9pm Thursday night, very excited to see such a powerful band in such a great sounding and relatively small room. The sidewalk was crowded with smoking metal heads and hipsters; signs proclaiming the lack of tickets decorated both entryways. And my name wasn’t on the list. It’s okay, this happens; my friends went in and I shuffled back towards the Fullerton L stop to catch a train home after informing Josh what had happened. As I waited on the platform for the Brown Line, a call came in: “I figured it out, go ahead back if you want to!” So I headed back, found my way through the line, traded some jokes with the door guy, who proclaimed “your night just went from sucking to being awesome!” and pushed my way through the large doors to either side of the bar.
I got back to the venue well after Marriages, the opener, had finished. But what I have heard online is really cool, so check them out. I arrived during what I will assume to be Chelsea Wolfe’s second or third song. I was not all that familiar with her before researching the opening acts for the show, but I have to say I was unimpressed with the recordings I heard. Live, however, was a little different. She had a full backing band, but Chelsea herself was the show. Draped in a flowing outfit that was entirely white on the front and entirely black on the back, she shook rafters with her moody, gothic take on heavy indie rock. Fluctuating between the wounded warbles of Karen O and the bombastic swells and shouts of Bjork, Chelsea Wolfe delivered a set that rose in intensity throughout its forty-five minutes. Although she donned a guitar for most of the evening, the one song she set it down for was the most arresting; left to concentrate solely on her vocals (which she looped with the help of electronics), Chelsea delivered a staggering performance that bled into the end of her set. The lights and impeccable sound of Lincoln Hall went a long ways in creating a great atmosphere, the intensity rising all way to the end, setting the stage for one of Chicago’s most beloved and epic acts, Russian Circles.
Russian Circles would be classified as instrumental metal, I suppose, but they do much more than that. They weave some of the more melodic layers of bands like Sigur Ros and Envy with the technicality of Minus the Bear. They can also crush you like Mastodon. Their stage lighting was minimal; three large halogens (one behind each member) and then two old, yellowed light bulbs out front. During a Russian Circles show, there is no “show,” there is atmosphere and music. Opening with one of their heavier numbers, “309”, off of their latest Sergeant House Records release, Empros, the band held the crowd in the palm of their hand, occasionally tightening and then loosening their grip throughout the hour long set. They don’t talk to the crowd; there were no microphones. They fill the spaces between songs with drones or spiraling melodic loops. Bassist Brian Cook’s massive rig allows him to mimic the tones of a distorted baritone guitar while still throwing around enough low end to give every note the weight it needs. Guitarist Mike Sullivan hides in the shadows, only occasionally emerging to showcase his multi-finger tapping technique from time to time. The man looks like he’s trying to play a tiny piano on the neck of his guitar…and his fingers are reminiscent of Gary Oldman’s mutated Dr. Smith. Drummer Dave Turnkrantz swings his sticks with some kind of controlled abandon, careening from crusty disco beats to full on monkey man, stopping long enough between songs to take massive swigs from the beer bottles at his feet. These guys are excellent musicians and you never feel like you’re missing something without a vocalist. I can have a hard time listening to extended amounts of instrumental bands at home or at work, but to see Russian Circles live is to encounter a musical force face to face and it is indeed an awesome experience. The band played highlights from all four of their studio albums, although the set seemed to lean more towards the heavier material than the previous times I’ve seen them, occasionally whipping the crowd into a frenzy of raised fists, spilled beers, and some righteous headbanging. They held back just enough throughout the night to throw everything into set closer “Mladek”, my personal favorite from Empros. The song rides waves of melody to some pretty destructive territories, culminating in a straightforward but thoroughly satisfying chugger of an ending. Like I said, awesome. So fucking awesome.
Information about the tour…
Tour: Russian Circles US Headline Tour featuring Chelsea Wolfe
Bands: Russian Circles, Chelsea Wolfe, Marriages
Reviewer: Ian Lashbrook
Date: August 23, 2012
Venue: Lincoln Hall in Chicago, IL
Joshua Weidling Owner/Founder
I'm the Founder & CEO of Digital Tour Bus. I started the company in my dorm room during my freshman year of college. I have a degree in Business Marketing from the University of Illinois at Chicago. Outside of music, I'm an avid watcher of South Park, It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia, Community and Parks & Recreation.