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!]