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Russian Circles Live at Cambridge, MA’s The Sinclair

Chicago instrumental outfit Russian Circles spent much of the final month of 2014 celebrating their 10th anniversary on the road, with a series of East Coast shows accompanied by the Converge/Cave In-affiliated trio Mutoid Man. While their recorded output is worthy in its own right, Russian Circles have long shined brightest as a live act, and a run of packed club shows felt like the perfect way for them to mark a decade together. The two trios brought their disparate-yet-complimentary live acts to Cambridge’s The Sinclair on December 10, 2014.

The founding members of Russian Circles, guitarist Mike Sullivan and drummer Dave Turncrantz, have been playing with bassist Brian Cook since 2007, and it comes as no surprise that the trio are by now a tight and cohesive unit. By way of pedal arrays and massive tones, Sullivan and Cook have no trouble sounding like more than the sum of their parts. Backed by Turncrantz’s consistently on-point percussion, they do more with a single bass and guitar than many other bands are capable of in a live setting. Each song of a career-spanning 10-track setlist sounded appropriately epic, deftly navigating from hushed interludes to headbanging climaxes and back again while keeping a sold-out or very-close-to-it audience totally spellbound.

Russian Circles also know the tricks of using atmosphere to deliver a properly memorable gig. The band travels with their own backlighting rig, which illuminates them in dramatic shadows and silhouettes, foregoing the house lights until a particularly stirring passage demands an extra burst. The three men say nothing on stage and rarely glance at the audience, which might feel dull or disengaged were their attention to detail and mood, both sonically and visually, not so readily apparent.

Mutoid Man, the brainchild of Cave In singer/guitarist Stephen Brodsky and Converge drummer Ben Koller, offered less in the way of ambience, but made up for it with plenty of unhinged personality. Rounded out by bassist Nick Cageao, the band ripped through a breathless opening set comprised of much of their debut LP Helium Head, a handful of new songs and a show-stopping cover of Sabbath’s Mob Rules cut “Falling Off the Edge of the World” with a guest vocalist. Mutoid Man transpose Koller’s frenetic drumming and Brodsky’s guitar and vocal talents to a more lighthearted project than either’s primary gig, and they’re undeniably a blast to watch.

The bill was perhaps an odd matchup of bands, but with so much talent involved, it was hard to find fault with it. Mutoid Man got us psyched up and Russian Circles kept us riveted, celebrating their 10 years with a set that perfectly summarized their strengths. Here’s to hoping the first decade won’t be the last.

—Ben Stas

Mutoid Man

Russian Circles

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