There must be something in the air. A handful of months ago, when Circa Survive announced that their forthcoming LP, Violent Waves, would be self released, they set the stage for a lot of changes to be put in place. No longer having a major label to back them created new obstacles in logistics for the band, but with those obstacles also came the freedom to craft an album precisely how they wanted to—and without unseen hands nudging them in any direction but their own.
A stellar example of this intense, new hands-on approach is in the supporting acts that Circa chose to have out with them on this headlining tour. O’brother, Balance and Composure and Touche Amore are all incredibly talented and well-established bands, but have something in common: running just below the radar. All four bands playing in one night touted one of the most impressive full line-ups I’ve seen in years, and each act didn’t fail to impress.
Still reeling from their 2011 release, Garden Window, O’brother’s music strikes the perfect balance between grungy and ethereal. They seem to get better and better each time I see them, nearly stupefying the crowd with how dynamic their performances are. Winning over the sort of loyal fan base that Circa has amassed over the years is no feat, but even a short set from the Atlanta, Georgia-based five-piece, had people howling for more. Their grungy, cerebral songs are polarizing, vocalist Tanner Merrit switching between harsher vocals and then pitch perfect vibrato. The highlight of the set was definitely the heavy-hitter “Machines (Part 1),” followed by the gorgeous, lullaby-esque opening “Machines (Part 2).”
Balance and Composure, who hail from the same Philadelphia suburb as the men in Circa Survive (Doylestown, Pennsylvania), have been slowly gaining the attention they deserve for the last few years. Release after release, the band has become a perfectly cohesive outfit, and their live show is no disappointment—showcasing many high points from their late-2011 release (Separation), they blew through their set with little pause. Vocalist Jon Simmons seemed genuinely surprised to see so many people singing along with him, one of these people being Circa Survive frontman, Anthony Green, who stood side-stage for most of their set and seemed stoked as ever. Little actions of brotherhood like that are what made this tour genuinely moving to watch. All of the bands seem sincerely overjoyed to be touring together, which shined through in each and every single one of their performances.
Just a month prior, Touche Amore played to a packed room at Backspace, and the turn out during their set was even more impressive. “It goes without saying that we owe the dudes in Circa Survive a whole lot,” vocalist Jeremy Bolm said before starting the set, “but this is the biggest crowd we’ve every played to in Portland and we definitely have them to than for that.” Heavy hitters in the scene, Touche plays the sort of hardcore that will make even the most docile of fans want to swing their fists. In all the shows I’ve seen at the Wonder Ballroom, I’ve seen someone stage dive maybe once or twice, but their set was with riddled with people hoisting themselves up to the barricade-less stage and launching into the crowd. Each one of the band’s songs is a scathing, passionate powerhouse, and with such short lengths, they managed to blow through exactly twenty of them—with crowd favorites like “Honest Sleep,” “Home Away From Here” and the absolutely haunting set-closer “Condolences” being high points.
Headliners Circa Survive need little introduction. In their eight year lifespan as a band, they have managed create a sound and look that is all their own, and their fan base is expansive because of it. Ever the champions of interactive sets, seeing Circa live means you’re bound to leave with a pocket full of confetti streamers and buzzing ears. This time around, they didn’t disappoint. Backed by a screen lit up by multicolored panels of LED lights, the five-piece took to the stage to an electric crowd. Anthony Green, lead singer, has a way with commanding the crowd during performances, his goofy stage antics completely mesmerizing people. With a very recent release under their belts, Circa opted to play only a few songs from it (one being the single, “Suitcase”), and left the rest of the set to old favorites from prior releases. This move always seems to lend itself to utter happiness from fans, all of them swaying and singing along loud enough to sometimes overcome those from the microphone.
Writing music together since 2004, the friendship and camaraderie alive on stage was clear, all parts working together in perfect unison. Fun surprises dotted the set, such as confetti streaming out to blanket the crowd during “In Fear and Faith,” and “The Difference Between Medicine & Poison Is In The Dose”, and later on, Bolm joined the stage to accompany Green on “Glass Arrows” (a song from Blue Sky Noise, their 2010 release)–all of these parts working together to make the Violent Waves tour one that would’ve been a heartbreak to miss out on.
Words by Jenna Fletcher
Photos by Kimberly Lawson – More on Flickr