I’ve seen lots of instrumental rock bands, of varying styles, and probably wouldn’t have thought of going to see Russian Circles last week, but a friend was really excited to see them, so I was amenable. I knew them a little bit — I mentally lump them in with bands like Red Sparowes as epic, serious-minded, metal-tinged instrumentalists. This seemed pretty accurate — the show was good but a little too earnest. The crowd was about 90% male (even real metal shows have more chicks), and mostly on the young side. This kind of music has a certain appeal (and I enjoyed it) but somehow it’s missing something. It was a fun but not transcendent show.
Basically I have a problem with bands that rely too heavily on tone and effect rather than on songs. Russian Circles were certainly not the worst in that category (opener Young Widows used a hell of a lot more effects pedals, but had better music to go with it). Obviously, tone matters; effects matter; it makes sense for musicians to spend a lot time, money and effort on getting the sound they want. But when the music is all about the tone, it just seems kinda pointless. I want my guitar-based music to be something that could be adapted to a crappy Sears-brand guitar/amp combo and still be recognizable.
I also had the feeling, an unusual one, that they could do with some vocals. I generally support instrumental music and think vocals are often redundant, but sometimes they can really add something. Russian Circles + an interesting singer could = Made Out of Babies which is a way more interesting band.
On the plus side, I have listened to Russian Circles before and never given much thought to their name. While watching them live, I found it appropriate — their songs are really carefully composed, often circling back to the beginning segments.
Anyway I am not hating on Russian Circles — they were pretty good. But I thought Young Widows were better. I didn’t really know this band but I was terrified before their set because they set up a massive array of amps… luckily some of them had hidden lamps inside instead of speakers. Young Widows were also guilty of being too effects-driven but they had actual songs that were heavy post-hardcore, maybe screamo… fun stuff! Intense! You can get a flavor of their sound at a video from a show a few days later seen here. They reminded me a little of Frodus who I saw earlier this year; I liked Frodus better but I might like the Widows more if I listened to them. I’ll give them a shot.