Russian Circles / Dälek / Young Widows @ Subterranean

February 19th, 2008

Despite the predicted -20F wind-chill, plenty of people packed into Subterranean to see this rather unusual lineup.

Young Widows was a fairly worthless guitar-bass-drums trio, playing a sort of heavy-ish, loud music with some generic yelling. Most of their riffs made it seem like they know nothing about music, since they were quite unmusical, and not in an intentional sort of way. Once every other song or so, they’d switch into some repetitive, almost atmospheric parts, and those were actually pretty good, but not enough to make up for the nonsense in between.

Then came Dälek with their alternative hip-hop. The lineup, clockwise, from the back: a big scary prison-looking dude, standing behind a table with a MacBook (and maybe a couple other boxes) on it. Then the preppy curly-haired kid who was the last guy denied entry to the final 24 on American Idol, sitting at a table, with a MacBook. Then a big angry teddy bear on the mic. Then a metal-looking guy on guitar, which was plugged into, guess what, a MacBook. The prison dude seemed to spend most of his time prowling back and forth behind his table like a caged animal, and rarely was seen doing anything musical. The American Idol kid sat at his table bobbing his head, but could have been playing Minesweeper the whole time for all I know (what’s the Mac equivalent?) I could tell that the teddy bear was actually spitting his rhymes for real, but he wasn’t especially charismatic, and his diction meant that I couldn’t really follow along. The heavy-metal guitarist was the most visibly active of the bunch, with his right hand oscillating at high speed, black-metal style, throughout the set. But his sound was so processed and delayed that it was difficult to tell exactly what component he was contributing to the overall sound. At one point, from 20 feet away, I could actually hear the sound of the pick contacting the strings as he slashed at them, because the amplified sound generated by those slashes didn’t emanate until much later.

So this didn’t do much to change my opinion that live hip-hop is fairly pointless. Their unique sound and style still came across really well, with the chilling and discomforting melodies and atmospherics mixing with the groovin’ beats, and I give ’em credit for inventing that, but it’s really nothing that I couldn’t have gotten from sitting at home and listening to their records. Their set also seemed pretty short, and there was no communication with the audience, which seems a bit weird for hip-hop.

I downloaded Russian Circles’s album ‘Enter’ a long time ago, but didn’t really pay too much attention to it, because as an instrumental post-metal/rock band out of Chicago who wasn’t named Pelican, I assumed it was just some kids doing a 3rd-rate copycat of a trendy style. But recently I’ve noticed that it’s a really good album, and from the first five seconds of drum intro, I could tell that their live set would be even better, and would easily prevent the night from being a bust.

They’re another guitar-bass-drums trio, and every one of them had excellent tones on their instruments, and in contrast to Dälek, their playing was refreshingly “live” and tight (there were a few 2nd-guitar parts coming from somewhere, but those might have been looped live). Compared to other members of their genre, Russian Circles comes off as being a bit more “direct”, perhaps because there are only three of them constructing the sound, or perhaps because their tempos seem to be a tick faster, or perhaps just because they write their songs that way. They’re just a more maneuverable vessel, though they won’t be compared to Canvas Solaris anytime soon. If Isis is oceanic, Russian Circles is a Great Lake. If Pelican is a pelican, Russian Circles is a golden eagle. If Red Sparowes is a Communist empire, Russian Circles is a privately-held multinational corporation. If Cult of Luna is…ok, no, I think you’ve got the idea.

Although their set also seemed rather short (less than an hour?), I think they played at least a couple of songs that were new to me, and they sounded just as good if not better than the ones on their album. It made me feel stupid that I haven’t made the effort to see them play before this. They didn’t say a single word to the crowd, which means that “Hey Chicago, what the fuck is going on?” from Dälek was the only banter of the whole night. I’ve seen single bands not say a word, but only one line from three bands? That’s a new record for me.

Oh, and boo to the asshole who was taking photos using a bounce flash with a diffuser, in a black room off a black ceiling. Every time he fired that thing off it was like a lightning bolt straight to the eyeballs.