It might be quite disenchanting to come all the way from the US and find out that the first venue you’re playing on your tour is a glorified basement with a bar. Oh, and a roof that leaks incessantly. But that’s where the joint headline tour for Russian Circles and These Arms Are Snakes has kicked off, and tonight I don’t think they could care less about the not so glamorous surroundings.
All the bands tonight are good friends with exotically named opening act Tropics, who did a good job of encouraging revellers to purchase their recently released split with These Arms Are Snakes. It was quite fascinating to watch the relentless effort put into the schizophrenic set by the drummer, whose pace even his drums could not stand. Although some fairly nondescript vocals took the bite out of the music somewhat, Tropics were an impressive start to the evening.
But as the three unassuming and well dressed men of Russian Circles ambled onto the ‘stage’ you could sense the palpitating hearts reverberate throughout the room. Last time I saw these guys they tore the Monto Water Rats a new arsehole, and still rank as one of the loudest gigs I’ve been to, so anticipation was feverpitch for another corker.
A small smoke machine poured its soul out throughout the set, and as the wispy threads toyed with the single light emanating from behind Dave Turncrantz’s drum kit, it gave ‘Verses’ a startlingly hypnotic effect as the smoke wrapped itself around the band. But there’s no doubt about it – Russian Circles are at their best when kicking out the heaviest material they have, with opener ‘Harper Lewis’ immediately sending a chilling echo throughout the room, and ‘Station’s sharp and angular riff resonating throughout the darkness, causing many a head to nod.
Things ended a little disappointingly as ‘Death Rides a Horse’ lacked the visceral punch when it reached its wall crumbling conclusion, more the fault of the sound than the performance. And with that it was over, almost a fleeting glimpse of one of the most interesting and exciting bands about at the moment.
Usually that would be enough, but we (and Brian Cook) still had another band to go. I’ve heard that These Arms Are Snakes‘ vocalist, Steve Snere has a habit for letting it all go on stage, and tonight I witnessed it first hand. Immediately the guy was scrambling up speaker stacks, jumping on audience members, running to the back room of the stage and at one point made an attempt to smash a bottle, all for the most part half naked – although there was a very real possibility that he was going to go all the way.
Whilst it was amusing at first, I left the set feeling a real sense of concern for this guy – how can you do all that on stage and not find yourself burning out or questioning your actions? I suppose it’s the age old question of what to expect from your performers but for the most part, his vocals were the worst thing of the set, to the point where it came as a slight relief that he’d broken the microphones.
New album Tail, Swallower and Dove got a rather muted response from some of the more eager members of the audience. ‘Red Line Season’ suffered due to the poor sound, and ‘Seven Steps’ lost the epic momentum it has on record when Snere got completely lost within the crowd. There was no holding back with the material from Easter however, which went down raucously and led to all sorts of elbows in faces.
Tonight’s show made me realise what it must have been like back in the day – the Engine Rooms’ tiny space demands that bands shed themselves of any fear or pretension that they are above their audience. Tonight felt like a DIY show, not two of the best bands from America, and it made it all the more better. This is what live music should be about, exciting, intimate and dangerous – where the audience feel as much as part of the show as the singer pretending to hang himself with his belt. Yeah, he went there.