November 29, 2009

Sometimes the Amount of Hair Does Equal Rock N’ Roll Out Put: Russian Circles, Young Widows, & Helms Alee at Neumo’s



Russian Circles::: photo courtesy of James Bailey

I apologize for the tardiness of this post. The holiday season and my own sluggish economic situation has forced me into the “I have two part-time jobs that I don’t want because I can’t get a full-time job I do want” shuffle. My schedule sucks. And the more time goes by, “Lust for Life” becomes more of a song that mocks my life than an anthem of carpe diem.  Don’t cry for me, you’re probably doing the same thing. These are the times when you tend to do cost-benefit analysis on your own mortality. Man, are funerals expensive these days or what? Luckily I still have time to go to shows, awesome shows like the one below….

To the outside world, the word “pageantry” would be the last word in the English language applied to Helms Alee, Young Widows and Russian Circles. But when I walked into Neumo’s on Wednesday night November 18th, I decided that tonight’s rocking bill will be written about as if it were a beauty pageant. All three acts may not sound “beautiful” in the traditional sense, but I think they’re swell. All three tenacious acts vying for my undying for affection, at least how the script went in my head. All three contestants brought with them something different.

Helms Alee harnessed the energy of the hometown crowd and used it to elevate their performance. On this night, they were the most “rocking” band. If you don’t know about Helms Alee, you need to familiarize yourself immediately. They’re a sight for sore eyes and they write music that eyesores like me find absolutely captivating. Plus, Hozoji Matheson-Margullis might be the best drummer in Seattle. I’m disappointed in myself for not seeing them prior to this night. Never again will I allow such an injustice to happen and neither should you. Helms Alee wins my “Sometimes the Amount of Hair Does Equal Rock N’ Roll OutPut” award in my pageantry of dark atmospheric rock. The highlight of the set for me, and this is no cheap shot at all, was actually the last song they played that night. The only problem is that I don’t know the name of the it. At first listen it sounds like an alternative version of “Big Spider” because the main riff is pretty similar but then I noticed that the vocal patterns were totally different. The song also features a “our plane is crashing” ending that lasts for a good half minute. I only have one Helms Alee album so my knowledge is limited, but if you could help a dude out, it would much appreciated. Here’s the song on youtube.   Young Widows were second on the bill. Out of all the acts that took the stage at Neumo’s on this particular night, this was the one I was most familiar with. Having been a fan-boy of the earlier incarnations of Young Widows, they were the band I was most excited to see. They played a curiously sluggish set however, opting for their more adventurous songs rather than the ones that you might expect them to play. I’m not mad at them. Sometimes you don’t want to play “the hits.”

The first thing you notice about Young Widows is the immense size of their amps. Due to my failure to take notes and the big gap between then and now, I can’t remember the make of their colossal sound system. I just know that the amps had fucking searchlights built into the them. The amps looked like they could grow legs at any moment and become a Battletech MechWarriors that could destroy the venue within seconds. Where is the engineer to my impending destruction? I would like to shake his hand. During “Old Skin” the lead guitar sample sounded like sirens the government would sound if a worldwide paranormal invasion were to take place. The bass during “New Forest” is a Giant Squid lurking in the coldest most black parts of the uncharted ocean. As the beast surrounds the steady “we’re bored” one line guitar riff during the verse, your eyes become filled with ink and you’re quickly dispatched by the almost mythical creatures beak. I’d also like to publicly thank Young Widows bassist Nick Thieneman for his steady rocking out. There were a couple of songs where I thought he was going to fall forward into the crowd. One particular time, he wasn’t even playing but he was losing his shit nonetheless. Kudos to you Mr. Thieneman. Young Widows won my “Band That Most Surprisingly Reminded Me of Shudder To Think” award. No joke, this show prompted me to change my ring tone to “X-French Tee Shirt.”

The headliners, Russian Circles were absolutely immaculate. At this point, I was getting tired from lack of sleep and the two well drinks that I had downed, so I decided to move away from the stage a bit. In hindsight I have to thank my fatigue, the move away from the stage gave me a better chance to really hear what the band was doing. Gentle reader, let me tell you something, these guys make it look easy. But it’s not. Don’t be fooled by the precision of their performance. Sure, it’s not hard to wrap your mind around Russian Circles epic lullaby’s at times. But their execution is flawless and their songs sound even better live than they do recorded. “Harper Lewis” came off more brooding and awe inspiring and the out of nowhere tenacity of “Death Rides a Horse” crushed all challengers. Russian Circles won my  “Skwisgaar Skwigelf Musical Performance of Excellence” award.

If Santa is real, and I believe he is, there will be more shows similar to this one during this holiday season. Otherwise, I’m going to stop believing in that jolly fat man.


Helms Alee ::: photo courtesy of James Bailey


 Young Widows::: photo courtesy of James Bailey


Russian Circles::: photo courtesy of James Bailey

November 16, 2009

Russian Circles, Helms Alee, Young Widows, & “Ex-Members Of…” At Neumo’s Wednesday Night


Old Skin – Young Widows from J.J. Johnstone on Vimeo.

Caution: This preview features “ex-members of….”

Gentle reader. I try to avoid it. It’s cliche. It’s dumb. It’s marketing and the dissemination of information on crutches. It’s what writers try to do in order to give you some vague idea of how something might sound. Sometimes it can be accurate, other times it can leave you scratching your head. What am I talking about? The usage of “ex-members of…” in the context of anything music related. I hate it because there’s more meaning in the phrase than should be given. But since I hate you, my gentle reader, I’m going to use it over and over again. It’s Monday, aren’t I allowed to play games with you because god is playing games with the rest of us? I think you know the answer to that…

There are three good bands taking the stage at Neumo’s on Wednesday evening. Helms Alee (ex-Harkonen!), Russian Circles and Young Widows (ex-Breather Resist!). A solid bill, right? Notice my “ex-members of..” territorial pissings? I promise this will be the only time I tout such garbage. In this particular case you can feel the preceding band’s fingerprints on what is going on currently. Helms Alee brings to mind a more melodic version of Harkonen, but only in brief spurts. Ben Verellen’s vocals are obviously the common denominator between the two. Other than that, I’m not sure how to describe them. Consider that a good thing. 

Russian Circles are the instrumental soundtrack to planets being formed and stars being destroyed. Listening to them is an exercise in reminding yourself that you’re not actually a musician, you play one on TV. These guys opened up for Tool in 2007, that should give you an idea of their otherworldly musicianship.

Last and certainly not least, Young Widows. Once upon a time, there was this absolutely amazing band from Kentucky called Breather Resist. Good golly they were the sugar in my tea.Their singer left and the band morphed into Young Widows instead of calling it quits. Thank your lucky charms that they did. Look at the video for “Old Skin” and be prepared for what is to come….