Live Review: Russian Circles with Only Thunder and Eyes Caught Fire

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Photo: Tom Murphy Only Thunder

Russian Circles w/Only Thunder and Eyes Caught Fire Wednesday, July 23, 2008 The Black Sheep, Colorado Springs Better Than: Not seeing Eyes Caught Fire before their hiatus to write new songs.

Unfortunately I got to the venue toward the end of Only Thunder’s set. Their music sounded to me like the new face of emo but their guitar work was a lot more interesting--more spiky and expansive than a lot of the bands coming from that world. But they played with good spirits and intensity and that makes any band worth seeing again and given a more thoughtful listen.

Photo: Tom Murphy Eyes Caught Fire

Eyes Caught Fire should already be famous. Their story is worthy of a VH-1 special filled with triumph, tragedy and transcendence. But they’re probably best known in their hometown of Colorado Springs and in the hearts of a small cult following far outside the city limits. For this show they opened with the harrowing, haunting and glitter-strewn “Like Monsters.” “Wake Up” began languidly, like sunlight streaming through to the bottom of a pond, and escalated in both emotional and musical intensity, with introspective interludes reprising the song’s beginning, throughout. Both songs are from their recently released EP, The Chantepleur.

The next three songs were either new or unreleased. “Alchemist Error” (formerly known as “565”) is one of the band’s best. Lydia Brown’s melancholy piano opening coupled with Dustin Bingham’s shimmering, distant, otherworldly guitar flourishes are chilling and immediately hypnotic, drawing you in to an emotional and spiritual journey in sound.

If Lydia’s piano was melancholy on the previous song, her synth work for “A Year and Some Days…” are some of the saddest notes ever strung together for a song. Noah Winningham’s bass lurked about like a tugboat on the foggiest day of the year accompanied by Joel Brown’s signature lush and rich percussion. By the time Dustin came in with a Neil Halstead-esque tone of beautiful desolation and Kellie Palmblad’s lovely, plaintive voice sang lyrics so articulate of loss, it was so moving it was nearly impossible to take. Only Red Cloud and Nico have matched a similar plane of despair and expressed it so beautifully.

They finished out the set with livelier numbers such as their oddly danceable yet uplifting and ethereal, “Chopps & Robbers” and “XOXO.” There are few bands that inspire me to drive seventy miles to see them, but the emotional catharsis of Eyes Caught Fire is well within that select few.

Photo: Tom Murphy Russian Circles

Twin Sunn amps on top of dual Emperor cabinets for the guitarist alone was a clear signal that Russian Circles were going to be louder than any band you’re likely to see outside of a stadium. Fortunately they were never loud for the sake of being loud. They were not, for instance, as blisteringly face-melting as Motorhead. But they did play music as sonically rich and heavy. They were like the heaviest space rock band imaginable. You might call their sound a gloriously abrasive flood of dense guitar atmospheres across the sonic spectrum. Some might wish they were a metal band, but they were too far outside the box on their song dynamics and their penchant for creating ambient stretches inside their songs. They clearly cared about mood and how their sounds affected the listener emotionally and not merely if they were rocking harder than anyone had ever seen before. At times both the bass and the guitar sounded like truly unique synthesizers.

The drummer, though, made their overall sound a lot more organic since he didn’t just play as fast and as furiously as he could. He went for a more tribal sound that always packs more of a punch than all these idiots who think they need to just assail us with double-kick rolls. That kind of thing doesn’t hit you hard -- knowing when to use all your components does, and this band knew how to do it. Sure, they ran into a technical issue with the guitar about halfway through their set but they leapt that chasm and showed us how you can use aggression creatively in music while also stirring the body, heart and imagination. -- Tom Murphy

Critic's Notebook Personal Bias: Eyes Caught Fire has written some of my favorite music of the last twenty years. Random Detail: I ran into Fucking Orange’s John Hruska, his girlfriend Lauren and their roommate Trevor outside along with Dave Grimm and Lauren Langley from Abracastabya and Johnny from Colonial Excess. By the Way: The staff at the Black Sheep are cool people, especially Melissa, the door girl.

This is the eighteenth in a series of thirty consecutive shows that Tom Murphy is planning on attending. His whole idea is to prove that there's cool stuff going on any night of the week in Denver, if you bother to make any effort whatsoever to find it. He suggested naming this series, "This Band Could Be Your Life," a fitting designation to be sure. Since there's already a similarly titled book, however, we opted to file these entries under Last Night's Show -- you know, to avoid being sued an all. (Sorry, Tom.)

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