Russian Circles at Gorilla, Manchester - live review

Chicago post-rockers bring support from shoegaze trio, Cloakroom

A crowd at a prog gig
(Image: © Katja Ogrin)

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Shoegazers Cloakroom are on fine form as they open the evening’s proceedings with a set of scuzzy, fuzzy rock tunes in thrall to the 90s golden years of the genre. Sonically closest perhaps to labelmates Nothing, their set has its moments, particularly when hook-laden guitar leads counterpoint grooving bass parts.

While they definitely have their own thing going, a criticism would be that playing so strongly to genre stereotypes as to bury the guitars and vocals does them a disservice, as there are licks and melodies that deserve a more forthright presentation to the listener.

Before long, a squall of noise washes Russian Circles onto the stage, and the lights dim, revealing the musicians backlit in silhouette. Starting on the one-two punch of Asa and Vorel from new album Guidance, the band come screaming out of the gate, with guitarist Mike Sullivan and bassist Brian Cook forming a solid chugging wall of noise over Dave Turncrantz’s monolithic drums.

Without any let-up, the band segue straight into Deficit, the dark and powerful second track from their none-more-black album Memorial. Live, the track is, if anything, even more impactful than on record, with Sullivan’s ice cool tremolo-picked leads gliding over the top of the dominating groove ridden by the rhythm section.

What’s interesting to see throughout the set is just how much Cook does to round out Circles’ sound. To add counter-melodies or riffs under lead parts, he often swaps the bass for a baritone, sometimes mid-song. When extra oomph is called for, he uses a foot controller to play keyboard notes and samples, and somehow manages a note-perfect performance on his main instrument at the same time.

309 from Empros follows, concluding a relentless first half to the set. When discussing their new album, the band confessed to some apprehension about playing more major key material, and maybe this can explain why three tracks from the darkest end of Circles’ discography immediately precede the uplifting Afrika, another Guidance cut, and a highlight of tonight’s set. After a back-catalogue dive to take in Harper Lewis from Station, the gauzy 1777 and riff-driven Mota follow, before the soaring, transcendent Mlàdek finally closes the main set.

After a short break, the band return to play fan favourite Youngblood from Station. Interestingly, no tracks from their debut Enter are played, which is a shame as Death Rides A Horse would also make for a stunning encore number. Nevertheless, it’s a small complaint. Russian Circles are on world-beating form on this tour, playing new material that’s as righteous live as anything else they’ve done to date.