Russian Circles, Helms Alee & KEN Mode Perform At The El Rey

Review & photos by Andrew Bansal
[Videos by Matt Nielson] 

March 10th 2014, The El Rey Theatre, Los Angeles CA: Chicago-based instrumental heavy rock trio Russian Circles have been going from strength to strength in recent years, and since the last time I saw them headline the Troubadour in December 2011, they’ve traveled quite a fair distance as a band, literally and figuratively. Their latest album ‘Memorial’ has gained widespread praise and as a consequence, they’ve been getting booked on plenty of tours both as headliners and opening act. Currently, they’re approaching the end of a headline US tour with support from Helms Alee and KEN Mode, and played at a sold-out El Rey Theatre in Western Los Angeles last night.

Rock/metal shows here are few and far between, but it’s always great to visit this lovely venue and last night was no different in that regard. The place was sparsely populated when I entered it at around 7:30, and some public service announcements played just before the start of the show in an overly cheery voice made it seem like I had entered Disneyland or something. But soon after, KEN Mode began their 30-minute set promptly at 8, bringing their devastating musicianship onto this stage. This Canadian hardcore-influenced metal trio has been touring relentlessly since the release of their fifth album ‘Entrench’ last year and have played LA numerous occasions in recent months, but it never gets tiring to bear witness to such raw, unabated intensity that comes through the live performance of vocalist/guitarist/bassist Jesse Matthewson, his brother Shane on drums and Andrew LaCour on bass. Their tunes in this set ranged from fast-paced chaotic juggernauts to ultra-slow, procession-like walls of sound. They ended with the crushing ‘Never Was’ and made a strong impression on this crowd.

Interview with Jesse Matthewson coming soon

Visit KEN Mode on the web: 

Set List:
01. The Terror Pulse
02. Obeying the Iron Will…
03. No; I’m in Control
04. The Romanticist
05. Counter Culture Complex
06. Romeo Must Never Know
07. Never Was

Check out a video of KEN Mode performing ‘Never Was’ at this show:

Next up, Seattle’s psychedelic hard rock trio Helms Alee took the stage, and by this time, the venue had filled out rather nicely and this band got to play in front of a sizable audience. They provided a complete change in atmosphere with their style of music. It was evident from the fragrance spreading in the air that quite a few in this crowd were toking on their joints while they enjoyed Helms Alee’s music. With their simple three-piece guitar/bass/drums setup, Helms Alee put forth an interestingly diverse blend of sounds which is partly because of all three members sharing vocal duties and lending their own individual vocal delivery to each song. The first couple of songs in the set were dominated by Dana James’ bass-driven fuzz while the latter half moved to trippy territory as guitarist Ben Verellen’s Fender Squier Jagmaster emanated a cloud of exotic, desert-like sounds reminiscent of the 60s and bands such as Beatles and The Doors, while drummer Hozoji Matheson-Margullis injected bouts of barbaric intensity with her work behind the kit. Helms Alee drew a very positive response from this crowd, and with them being the main support act for this show, their 25-minute set was surprisingly short. Leaving the crowd wanting more, Helms Alee swiftly departed the stage.

Visit Helms Alee on the web: 

Tour Set List:
01. Pleasure Center
02. Tumescence
03. Grandfather Claws
04. Slow Beef
05. Pinniped
06. A Weirding Away
07. Heavy Worm Burden
08. Pretty As Pie
09. Ripper No Lube

Check out a video of Helms Alee performing ‘A Weirding Away’ at this show:

This show was moving along rapidly, which was a true indication of the quality of the live music the audience was treated to so far. Not long after Helms Alee were done, headliners Russian Circles appeared on stage and went on to play a fantastic 80-minute set without speaking a single word for the entirety of it. Very seldom has a Los Angeles crowd been held captive by an all-instrumental band in this manner, as Russian Circles had everyone’s complete undivided attention even through the delicate moments of the set. They presented a selection of tunes ideal for a headline set, visiting each of the five albums in their short but much revered career.

The lighting on stage was minimal but very much deliberate. It was creatively executed, with all three members backlit and for the most part portrayed as silhouettes, shifting the focus on the music that much more. Guitarist Mike Sullivan and drummer Dave Turncrantz went about fulfilling their roles perfectly while Brian Cook efficiently juggled his bass, guitar, samples and pedalboard without missing a note. To cap off an incredible show with a fitting encore, they played the title track off of their latest album ‘Memorial’, with Los Angeles-based singer/songwriter Chelsea Wolfe as guest vocalist, who also recorded the studio version of the song with the band. Following that, they closed the show with ‘Youngblood’ and said goodbye to a crowd that gave them a justifiably generous ovation.

The smell of Marijuana engulfed the air, but even for those who weren’t smoking that good stuff, Russian Circles’ performance was nothing short of a hallucinogenic drug in itself. The Mexican hot dog stands outside the venue did excellent business for themselves, better than usual, as after the end of the show they were quickly flocked by those who did indulge.

Overall, it was a privilege to be a witness to the brilliance of these musicians, and when a venue of this size is packed to capacity for no reasons other than pure appreciation for good music such as that played by these bands, faith in humanity is momentarily restored.

Watch a video of Russian Circles performing ‘Memorial’ with Chelsea Wolfe at this show:

Visit Russian Circles on the web: 

Set List:
01. 309
02. Harper Lewis
03. 1777
04. Geneva
05. Schiphol
06. Deficit
07. Carpe
08. Mlàdek
09. Memorial (with Chelsea Wolfe)
10. Youngblood

Check out a full photo gallery from the show below (view the photos here if you’re on a non-Flash device):

Remaining Tour Dates:
03/12 Phoenix, AZ – The Crescent Ballroom
03/13 Albuquerque, NM – Launchpad
03/14 Oklahoma City, OK – The Conservatory
03/15 Kansas City, MO – The Record Bar
03/16 Chicago, IL – Metro

Visit Chelsea Wolfe on the web:

Visit El Rey Theatre on the web: