As long as I’ve enjoyed post-rock and atmospheric-type bands, there are definitely not nearly enough tours featuring them. Back on February 8th, three of the good ones came through Dallas, TX: Inter Arma, Ken Mode, and the legendary Russian Circles. All of the bands had something to bring to the spacey table, per se – but the instrumental prowess is what solidified this show to me as one to not miss. Everyone attending knew what they were in for, and I did as well, to a point. The way you can visualize or imagine a show like this can only partially amount to the real experience, especially when you’re getting an ear- and face-full. The mood was relaxed, the weather was cold, and there were a large number of people in attendance, which was very deserved.
Inter Arma came up first, and being a five-piece band, they stood out compared to the other two – since both of the others are three-piece bands. Genre-wise, they fell somewhere in between black metal and post-rock; having touches of bands like Deafheaven for instance, though decently heavier in guitar/bass tone, as well as vocally. The songs were long, winding, and usually built up to a climax instrumentally, but were normally very flatlined vocally. In other words, it was hard to stay involved.
The technical ability was distinctive and solid, but without more moving songwriting (especially on the vocal end), it became difficult to stay interested. Nevertheless, coinciding with all of the glorious manes of hair on the band members, there was plenty of movement with the band physically and they were very much into their set from that standpoint – a necessity in that genre.
Ken Mode followed promptly afterwards, being a bit more accessible to those not quite deep into the genre. Their songs were much shorter, more straightforward, and easier to digest. They served as a fitting balance to the tour package and were very likable. With songs mostly in the three- to five-minute range, they blasted through several; heavy, noisy, and fast. Vocally they were harsh, but concise and worked well with the grooves presented – no flow disruption. All three of the guys were on their A-game instrumentally, being technically concise and they put together a great set that only mildly slowed down. It kicked ass all the way through.
Russian Circles then gathered on stage with their dim lighting and massive stereo amp setups on each side of drummer Dave Turncrantz, as well as extensive pedal boards and miscellaneous external gear. When they kicked things off with Empros opener “309”, the crowd followed with a massive cheer, leading into a twisting and dramatic set that accurately and wonderfully blended the massive rises and falls of all of their records. There was a large blend of material they chose to play, which offered a lot of variety even for those familiar with their sets, which I wasn’t. I’m a huge fan of Memorial and Station, so seeing “1777” and “Harper Lewis” was very electrifying.
One of the more impressive things about Russian Circles was their accuracy in their foot-work as well as their finger-work. To explain, their timing regarding their use of effects pedals such as reverb/delay – as well as looping – proved inexplicably important to how massive their set sounded, considering it’s just three men. They have a formula out with their foot down on it; they understand the rise/fall concept both on recording and in the live show, and because of that there are massive emotional climaxes that deliver sonically and visually.
I never had any doubts about the quality of this show, but it was enthralling to be a part of. Music of the post-rock and atmospheric genres are completely about substance, and with the right bands, the live experience can top the recording experience entirely. These bands did it right, and I certainly won’t miss it next time any of them come through.