By: Missy Limina
I moved to Montreal from Atlanta about four months ago, and this was my first time at Cabaret du Mile End. When I walked in the door I was reminded of the 40 Watt Club in Athens, Georgia. The place is well laid out, with plenty of different areas for sitting and standing. The seating areas along the sides are raised to allow for decent viewing of the stage no matter where you are located inside the venue. The sound was well balanced, the crowd warm and enthusiastic.
I saw Russian Circles multiple times back in Atlanta, always at the same venue. It was exciting to see them in a new place with a different group of people. I was not familiar with The Atlas Moth before attending the show. Given Russian Circles’ tendency to tour with extremely loud bands such as Deafheaven and Boris, I expected a refreshing display of loud guitars. I could tell just from looking at their equipment that I would not be disappointed.
Touring in support of their fifth release The Old Believer, Chicago’s own The Atlas Moth consists of four guitar players and a drummer. Only one of them has pedals to speak of, and it is not a particularly showy display. The dense wall of sludgy vibrations they created immediately upon taking the stage was suitably overwhelming and well sustained. It was difficult to tell which of the guitars was doing what at any given time. Each player contributed a unique and essential part to this massive Megatron of sound. The lead vocalist screeched like a great bearded bird of prey, his counterpart sounding more like the death rattle of Peter Steele. Both men were also playing guitars. Sacred Mind from the new album was a triumphant success with the crowd. The rock n’ roll was perfect. The front man’s Pig Destroyer shirt was also a nice touch.
If being in the audience for The Atlas Moth was like being in the washing machine, Russian Circles put us in the dryer. I have always loved the name of this band. Although it is said to have been taken from some kind of practice drill for hockey players, the first time I heard the name spoken I registered it as Rush in Circles. This stuck with me long after I was corrected. Although there is a distinct sense of disorder to their song structure, there is also something slightly round and cyclical about it. To me, it represents the sound of chaotic momentum. Their albums are phenomenal, but their live show is an experience not to be missed. It is fortunate that this band has continued to tour despite the fact that their last album, Memorial, came out over a year ago. In fact, I wonder if they have stopped touring at all since 2010.
There is something powerful about the way this band presents itself live. The stage setup is very minimal. It seemed only slightly less so on the tiny stage where I was used to seeing them. However, it became clear at Cabaret du Mile End that this would be my first time seeing them exactly as they intend to be seen. Each man has his own separate but equal section of the stage, and plenty of space to fill with his individual presence. Also, the drummer was in the center instead of being crowded to the back. He seemed more like the front man this way. With a light shining over his head, his was the only face you could see. The guitarists’ faces remained in darkness, lit mostly from below and behind with the same painter’s lamps they bring with them to every show. The house lights would shine down from behind every so often, casting them in silhouette. But you could tell the lighting director was instructed not to light the guitarist’s faces. It’s like they are saying to the audience, “shut your eyes and open your ears”. At least, that is the message I always get. Russian Circles is one of those bands I tend to “watch” with my eyes closed and my head bowed. Each show takes me on a unique inner journey.
The set started off with some of their slower and doomier selections, gradually progressing on to brighter, more uplifting moments. Every sound was so well placed. Even the one-note drones they use to fill space between songs play their own special part in the haunting meditative experience of a Russian Circles show. 309 was a highlight from the first half. Everything seemed to culminate with Geneva, a crowd favorite which seemed to guide everyone out of their bodies at once. Something magical happens when they hit one of those epic crescendos. The sound fills every inch of your body, stretching out your sensory receptors until you can’t tell if you are hearing subtle complexities within the music, the noise of the surrounding crowd, or some other auditory hallucination resulting from your ears working beyond their full capacity. If you happen to open your eyes and pay attention to the stage during this time, you can see the lead guitarist making metal faces and grinning like a demon child while he plays. There are some things which cannot be hidden, even in the darkest of shadows.