Venue: The Grog Shop
Source: Yours Truly (set lists confirmed by Inter Arma vocalist Mike Paparo, KEN Mode guitarist / vocalist Jesse Matthewson and videos I took of RC's set)
As I was driving to the venue, I realized that this was to be the first gig I've seen this year - the last show I attended was Clutch on 12/30/13 - so with a triple bill as promising as this one was and a couple of months' worth of cabin fever with no live metal to placate the demons that frequently frolic inside my head, it's fair to say I was anticipating the experience quite a bit.
I first hit up the Inter Arma merch table and talked for a few minutes with their frontman Mike Paparo, whom I had met a few months prior at a weird little gig they had played with Woe at a small college just fifteen minutes from my house. It had been a good show, but the crowd was weirdly not that into it and I think I was one of the only people who talked to him after the show and told him that it had been a great set (which it was - they played for nearly an hour and melted my face for the duration). I told him that the only disappointment for me was that they hadn't played "'sblood", which is my favorite track from Sky Burial
. He told me that they were planning to play it last night, and my interest was even more piqued.
They played for about 35 minutes or so, and their set was incredible from multiple perspectives. First, and completely randomly, they played pretty much everything from Sky Burial
that they hadn't played the previous time I saw them (except for "The Survival Fires", which they played both times). Secondly, they were even louder and more intense than the previous show I'd seen. Finally, at the end of "'sblood", which is over six and a half minutes long and features a rolling double bass line which does not stop for the entire fucking song
, they launched right into "Westward", which is around ten minutes long and also features some heavy drum work throughout. Bottom line, their drummer T.J. Childers is a fucking beast, and he crushed it non-stop for about twenty minutes straight last night without a single moment's pause. Impressive, as was their entire set. They played:
Love Absolute (instrumental)
The Survival Fires
Next up was KEN Mode, which Mike had introduced as being "from the imaginary province of Manitoba", which garnered a laugh from the crowd. They started right into things as expected - spastically and violently - with "The Terror Pulse", which is one of the best tracks from their latest album. Unfortunately, the trio began to experience some technical problems early in the set - primarily with Jesse's pedals - which got them a bit frustrated and off their game. It was still a great set, similarly to when I had seen them opening for Converge, Torche and Kvelertak in Columbus back in 2012, but some of the manic energy that makes their music so intense was lost on dodgy gear, which is always a bit of a pisser. I made sure to approach Jesse again after their set to tell him that they had rocked pretty damn hard, and he was gracious and appreciative. I mentioned the show in Columbus where I had seen them before, which was a one-off for KEN Mode, and he remembered it right away as being one of their best, to which I agreed. They had played "Counter Culture Complex" and "No; I'm in Control" that night even though they hadn't been released yet, and I told him I remembered them being highlights. The same was true last night. KEN Mode played:
The Terror Pulse
Obeying the Iron Will...
No; I'm in Control
Counter Culture Complex
The Irate Jumbunk
Romeo Must Never Know
Finally came the headliners, whom I've now had the pleasure of seeing five times (once on tour for each album they've released), and not surprisingly, they brought the heat yet again as they always do. The set was the same as it has been for recent shows except for the encore of "Youngblood" which they had played for the Massholes in Cambridge last Friday night (lucky fuckers
), but they still played for over an hour, and as far as I'm concerned, anything less than a headlining set from Russian Circles is just not enough. They launched the set with the opening track from Empros
- the hard-hitting "309", and by the time they finished their first song, the audience was already headbanging feverishly and pumping their fists into the air. "Harper Lewis" was next, which got the heads banging even harder (as it always does, especially during that killer riff right after Dave's fancy stick work at around 2:30). Next was a song from the new album, from which only a third of the songs they played last night were culled (just the right mix, I think). The next track was one of my favorites in their catalog, the title track from their third album, Geneva
. Crikey fuck does that song rock. Next, they played the beautiful "Schipol", which was a perfect mid-set break amongst all the heavier stuff.
They continued with another new track, followed by the stone cold classic "Carpe" from their first album. I believe they've played that track every time I've seen them, and to be honest, I don't care if they never stop playing it live. So good. Next was one of my favorite tracks from the new album, "Burial", which I swear to Satan is a genuine death metal song (just without vocals). It's a really cool departure from the normal RC canon to hear that song, and I'm so glad they're playing it on this tour. It really got the crowd's attention, too.
Finally, they closed as they had begun, with a track from Empros
- this time, the blockbuster "MlÓdek", which is aptly named for the pun on the word "melodic" (even though, as I've recently discovered, the true namesake of the song was actually their bus driver from one of their European tours). However, although the song starts out sweetly with some of Mike Sullivan's signature beautiful hammer-on's, it soon morphs into a galloping beast courtesy of one of the best rhythm sections in all post-whatever music - bassist Brian Cook and Drummer Dave Turncrantz. For nearly eight minutes, we the grateful audience at Cleveburg's humble little Grog Shop were kindly given our final pummeling of the night before Russian Circles finally concluded yet another unforgettable set.
When the final notes rang out, the trio left the stage - as they always do - without having uttered a single word. They respectfully acknowledged the crowd as they exited - again, as they always do - and that was it. Another incredible performance by a band whose excellent music speaks hundreds of times more loudly than any screaming voice ever could - which is exactly the way Russian Circles prefers things to be.