Text & Photos: Teddie Taylor
At the space-themed Saturn in Birmingham, Alabama, Sargent House trios put on shows that were nothing short of otherworldly. Rocket-like bass drum explosions punctuated with flares of unimpeded clarity. Three bodies in orbits of their own, only sonically eclipsing. “In space, no one can hear you scream.” The same applies to a Russian Circles and Helms Alee show.
The latest Helms Alee release, Stillicide, was an impressive feat by itself. In person, the tracks are even more massive. As they played the final seconds of “Galloping Mind Fuk” to end their set, it was clear that whether live or recorded, they play with more force than many of their peers. Hozoji Margullis is, to say the least, a phenom behind the drums. Dana Jones brings a concrete, unshakable foundation with her bass. And then there’s Ben Verellen, whose playing and vocals are abrasive, intense and perfectly suited to Helms. Their aquatic inspirations were evident as they rolled through songs with the strength of a hurricane tidal surge.
Russian Circles are a bucket-list band. As expansive as their records are, the three create an even larger landscape in person. From Station to their recent Guidance, Brian Cook, Mike Sullivan and Dave Turncrantz collected ten tracks from their discography and stretched them into what seemed like hours and hours. The rises and falls and building then stalling of their songs created a story that took you from stillness to the usual light headbang. The voices of each instrument were highlighted in a live setting so that they each contributed equally to the conversation. Even on an album, the individuality that each person brings isn’t so distinct.
“Distinct” describes them well. Theirs was the first show I’ve ever seen with a Moog Bass Synthesizer present. They never speak and only occasionally exchange smiles before a major song shift. The emphasis was entirely on the music and on the lights that illuminated their silhouettes. Russian Circles may sound complicated, but the trio seemed entirely at ease as they journeyed through “Asa” and “Youngblood.” It’s an experience and a true example of musicianship that is, from what I’ve seen so far, unparalleled.