“Chicago trio blows minds without muttering a single word”
As the Crossrail development in Tottenham Court Road has all but decimated central London’s live music scene, bands have been forced to look further afield for suitable venues. A newly refurbished, Grade II listed building on Islington’s Upper Street is fast gaining a reputation for becoming the mid-sized venue in the capital. With its modest art deco interior and stunning sound system, it’s the perfect setting for the Illinois instrumental trio’s headline show.
They open with the sprawling Deficit, a track taken from their 2013 album Memorial and guitarist Mike Sullivan’s surgically-precise muted thrash riffing causes hundreds of heads to nod in unison. Refreshingly, there’s no macho posturing here; people don’t go to Russian Circles gigs to throw their weight around. They go to absorb and escape; to stay rooted to the spot and immerse themselves in Sullivan and Cook’s thunderous loops and layered riffs. So much so, in fact, that a security guard to the left of the stage is so untroubled by the crowd that he takes time to apply some lip balm and gaze up at the undulating shadows the duo’s headstocks cast on the ceiling.
Maybe it’s because they’re winding down promotion on Memorial that tonight’s set is free of obligation and takes in highlights from their decade-long career. What follows is the soundtrack to tectonic shifts. There’s the brooding Carpe from their 2006 release, Enter. It’s followed by the doom swing of Empros opener 309 and chased by the rumble and clatter of Harper Lewis.
Wrapping up their 95-minute set with a transcendental Mládek, Death Rides A Horse and colossal version of Youngblood, Russian Circles prove tonight why they’re leaders in their field. And while their crowd interaction is limited to a raised hand and smile as they leave the stage, who needs words when their stunning musicianship speaks with the volume and confidence of a city banker on a Friday night?