When I first heard news of this show, my first thought was that this was a cruel April Fool's joke, weeks in advance. Fortunately, this was a real live honest to goodness show, and this would be the most intimate Russican Circles show I've seen since I caught them opening for Dalek at Mercury Lounge in February '08. Having recently galivanted across the country as the undercard on a bill featuring Coheed and Cambria / Between the Buried and Me, these guys spent a couple months playing the big rooms; their NYC stop on that tour was at Radio City.
Still not sure how I feel about seeing shows at Saint Vitus. Yes, the sound is great, and, yes it's nice to have a legit metal bar reasonably close to my apartment. [deleted a couple sentences here. Changed my mind n' stuff.] Whatever, as long as St. Vitus keeps booking great acts, I'll keep coming back in spite of that.
Was glad to run into Justin from Austerity Program at the show - there hasn't been much news from his band lately, but he shared that they've recently completed writing an album's worth of material. With Hydra Head now out of the picture, they're looking to release music on their own going forward, and they've apparently gotten some major hurdles out of the way in getting the infrastructure set up for that. I was also told that Austerity Program would be opening for Zozobra at Saint Vitus in just a few days (check back on Thursday for my review of that show).
Day-of, St. Vitus still had "TBA" listed as the opening act for this show. I put two and two together, hoping that St. Vitus-affilited band White Widows would be added to the bill, and although this didn't happen, I enjoyed both opening acts plenty. The first band, Descender, had a sound (rock-solid riffy / hook laden post-hardcore with seamless tempo shifts) and presentation (intense) which reminded me quite a bit of Goes Cube. The second band, Primitive Weapons served their own brand of crushing post-hardcore downtuned and noisy, with their vocalist (who splits duty with White Widows) seemingly spending as much time agitating shit in the audience as he did onstage.
At setbreak, the house music noticeably switched over from Saint Vitus' usual soundtrack of classic thrash / stoner / sludge to a steady, slow drone, foreshadowing Russian Circles' set. For those who have never seen Russian Circles live, theirs is a blend of foreboding atmospherics and dazzling metal chops, similar to Pelican in some ways, but with much more of an emphasis on quiet vs LOUD dynamics and tension release.
Taking the eerily backlit stage around eleven, Russian Circles' set on this night reminded me of why these guys are such a formidable live act - for the songs flow seamlessly from one into the other for lengthy stretches, bound together by ethereal, ambient minor key tones. The playing blends together the chugging riffs and flash-fingered soloing of thrash with the glacial grandiosity of Mogwai, dramatically punctutated by calm-during-the-storm minimalist segments.
The first half of the set (or so) seemed to be performed as one lengthy, multipart suite with several familiar themes from throughout their career popping up during the 20+ minute slab of music. The evening's highlights (for me) began shortly after this, with the band lurching into the excellent "Carpe" from their debut album, Enter. This seemed to wake the crowd up a bit as well, as the pit opened up directly in front of where I was standing, sending me to the bar for some water. (Check here for a brief, crappy video I took at this point in the show for proof of why I went to the back of the room.)
The final two songs of the evening were met with the greatest cheers of the evening by the sweaty crowd. The epic "Mladek" is probably the band's compositional masterpiece, beginning with gorgeous, bordering-on-inspirational arpeggios, and somehow seamlessly winding its way to a crushing conclusion that includes the most brutal playing in the Russian Circles catalog. After that, perpetual set closer "Death Rides a Horse" (I've seen the band at least seven times, and they've closed every set I've ever seen with this standout) galloped along to its fiery conclusion, managing to cram everything that's great about this band into as satisfying a set closer as there is.
[I feel I should mention something incredibly odd which I THINK I saw at this show - two smaller guests were accompanied by a pair of massive, left-tackle sized dudes, and if I'm not mistaken (I was not the only crowd member to have come to this bizarre conclusion), the bigger dudes were serving as the smaller peoples' bodyguards, standing with them on the edge of the pit and protecting them from stray elbows. Good work if you can get it, I guess!]
I simply don't get the universal acclaim for this. And I certainly don't agree with the "well at least we're lucky Kevin Shields finally put something out" stance assumed by so many mbv apologists. This is an album nearly entirely devoid of any memorable melodies. Yes, there are a few interesting moments (the synth part in "In Another Way" in particular, and a few scattered guitar lines here and there), but I don't hear any good complete songs. The closest they come is on the thumpin' little "New You," which unfortunately comes across as little more than a homage to Loveless' awesomeness.
Atoms for Peace - Amok
At this point, Thom Yorke obviously is more interested in being a producer than a singer in a rock and roll band; he seems to be more intrigued by chopsticks-tapping-on-the-desk-sounding minimalist percussiony stuff than writing the next "Paranoid Android" or whatever. Sure, there are a couple decent tracks on here, but by the midpoint you start to feel that you've heard all this stuff before, and that you may actually hear it still yet again before the album's over.
Also, what's the point of shelling out the big bucks to have Flea and Joey Waronker as your rhythm section if you're going to neuter their contributions to the point where they sound like a synth bass and drum machine?
White Widows - White Widows EP
Just a solid, meat-n-taters, no bullshit metal record, seamlessly incorporating elements of hardcore, sludge, and thrash. Fuck with this album and you'll be shittin' teeth for a week. Also, always great to hear Goes Cube's Kenny get another outlet for his stellar drumming.
So, recently, I attended 7 show in 6 days, as mentioned above. Not too shabby a showing, if I do say so myself... in fact, that might actually be a personal record of some sort. [On that tip, who th' fuck knows / cares.] Over said 7 shows and 6 days, a ton of bands were seen (including Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Colin Stetson, Harvey Milk, Occultation, Fang Island, Hollerado, Monogold, Goes Cube, Austerity Program, Rosetta, Naam, Liquor Store, Wild Yaks), comical quantities of beverages were consumed, acquaintances were renewed with old friends, and an unfair amount of fun was had. Frankly, I have no clue how I managed to avoid getting really sick / throwing my back out / collapsing due to sheer exhaustion throughout this whole debacle because, let's face, it, I'm no spring chicken.
Anyway, deets onward:
Goes Cube, Austerity Program, Rosetta and Naam at Studio at Webster Hall, Wednesday March 9, 2011
Met up with my buddy Jimmy Dogshit for some booze (including appletinis, an unfortunate tradition of ours) and mediocre burgers at the Pour House. Our waitress resembled a wholesomer version of British pornstar McKenzie Lee. That's all I'm'a say about that.
Rolled up to Studio towards the end of Naam's set. Wish I had more to report on these guys (because I've been told they're worthwhile), but sadly I don't.
Rosetta was up next, and they lived up to their reputation as being "the hardest band in the world to mic." Their set at Santos in January opening up for Kylesa during one of the blizzards really converted me from "casual fan" to "ardent admirer who has no qualms shirking responsibilities to go out and see 'em on a random weeknight." The sound sucked ass (I know, unusual for a Studio show) but the sweaty performance made up for it.
Let's just say I enjoyed a few beverages. When I got home late night, I noticed that for some reason I had 7 empty plastic shot glasses in my pocket. "THESE'LL COME IN HANDY!" As mentioned earlier, a shabby performance by me this was not.
Austerity Program's set was next, and allow me to report (it ain't no secret): the house was thoroughly ROCKED. They played the entirety of their fucking stellar EP from last year, Backsliders and Apostates Will Burn, as well as "Song 20" and... uhhhh... was that it? Fuck, I don't remember, but let me tell ya, it sure made for great drunken thrashing around.
Goes Cube finished off the evening with exactly the type of skullfuckingly brutal performance that I've come to expect from them since I started seeing them live 5 years ago. [Goddamn, how many times have I seen these guys live? 15? 20? I'm not in Brooklyn at the time of this writing so I can't consult Tuddd Archives for the answer, but it's somewhere up there. [edit: apparently it's 15 times, although that assumes that Tuddd Archives is actually accurate, which is highly unlikely.] Shee-itt.] Anyway, their set drew liberally from what seemed like all of their most recent releases: 2009's Another Day Has Passed LP, last year's 7", the digital recording from Coextinction Recordings, and, of course, their forthcoming LP, In Tides and Drifts (which ain't out yet, but which, of course, I dorkily pre-ordered). With Goes Cube singer / guitarist David no longer living in NYC, I wasn't expecting the set to be as tight as it was, and the great sonics of the Studio space really highlighted Kenny's superb drumming and Matt nimbly holding down the low end. Obviously I'm a huge fan of these guys' music, and it was great to hear that this was the brand of fury they'd be truckin' down to SXSW. RAWK.
Anyway, tried to spit game with two Norwegian (uh, I think?) chicks post-show / failed miserably / wound up drinking Heinekens in the back of a cab during the ride home. Woo Fucking Hoo.
Liquor Store at Death by Audio, Thursday, March 10, 2011
Nuff. Fucking. Said.
Friday, March 11th: Monogold at Glasslands AND Fang Island at Bowery Ballroom.
Well, not really. Actually it's more about the combination of lucky scheduling and way too much time on my hands than anything else. But nonetheless, I'm not exactly sure when the last time was that I pulled off attending two shows in one day. Hmmmm. It might have possibly been in September '06 when I saw Mastodon at Webster Hall early, then Comets on Fire at Knitting Factory late. Not gonna lie, that was pretty fucking badass. ('Twas a good day indeed.) Anyhow, the way this night shook out, I already had tix for Fang Island at Bowery, but I figured out I'd check out Monogold's early opening set at Glasslands before heading in to Manhattan, knowing that Monogold would be setting out in the van and driving down towards South by Southwest literally the moment their set was over. Good shit.
I first saw Monogold's live show at their Public Assembly record release show in mid-January - holy shitballs are they a good band, and man, was that a fun night. They have a "current"-ish Williamsburg indie pop sound without the overbearing tweeness of The Pains of Being Pure at Heart or Grizzly Bear or whoever, while creating well-crafted, tuneful music that makes the kids want to shake they shit. I've also been enjoying the bejeezus out of their newest album, The Softest Glow, as a nice change of pace from the usual steady diet of Melvins > Sleep > Melvins > Sleep > Melvins > Sleep playlist that more often than not can be found blaring out of my car stereo.
Monogold's set on this night was great, as it had been the first time I saw 'em. Frankly, they're another band that proves that I Don't Know Jack Shit About What Makes Music Popular, because they should be fucking huge. My personal favorites from the set were "Dead Sea Minerals" and "Ivory Tusk, Golden Teeth"... check below for studio versions of these two sick motherfuckin' jams:
I wished the gents my best on their SXSW journey and basically ran the fuck out of Glasslands the moment their set was done, heading southward back to my apartment briefly for a quick power-up / pit stop. Sadly, this brief (yet hyper-necessary) dalliance meant that I'd get to Bowery towards the end of opening band Hollerado's set, which I regretted; I'd seen them open up for (and blow away) Black Lips (who fucking blow) in this same room in September '07. Anyway, by the time I stumbled into Bowery, Hollerado was in the middle of a positively rippin' jam based on ZZ Top's "La Grange," and they looked to be having a great fucking time... again, I wish I had made it there a bit earlier, goddamn it.
Snuck way up front amongst the assembled 12 year-olds for Fang Island's set. Of course, I'm on record as being a Fang Island booster from way back in the day. Don't believe me? Here's a short, sweet, and to the the point list of accolades I've heaped on these guys:
First time I saw them live was in 2008, opening for Chairlift at Music Hall of Williamsburg, and I loved 'em instantly.
Second time I saw them live, in April '10 at Maxwell's, uhhhhh... looks like I didn't write them up or anything that time around, but my buddy OattJerk shot this video of "Daisy" at the show. Honest Injun.
When it came time compile a list of my favorite songs of 2010, Fang Island scored the year's top slot, with an unprecendented *four* songs in the Top 25. Impressive!
And, as befitting an album with so many fantastic songs, Fang Island's Fang Island topped my "Best Albums of 2010" list. It's also one of the ten best albums of all time by anyone.
Right on cue, this night's Fang Island set was somethin' special. In fact, my only real complaint about the previous two times I'd seen them -- sour vocals -- seems to have been largely remedied. And the larger Bowery stage allowed the three guitarists ample room to bust out some hilariously over the top ARENA RAWK stage moves. The setlist consted of most of songs from Fang Island (YAY!), with few older ones and one new one thrown in... I was hoping they'd have six Andrew W.K.s come out to reprise his glorious quasi-operatic vocal coda from "Patterns on the Wall" but alas it wasn't to be... regardless, even without that highly unlikely occurrence going down, this was one of the finest sets that I've seen all year.
OK, naptime. I will try to get a post up about Saturday / Sunday / Monday's shows and goings on but I can't promise anything... heading to Costa Rica on Wednesday for what's sure to be the Douchiest Bachelor Party Ever With the Douchiest Group of Douches That Ever Douched. Tuddd out.