On Letting Go is one hell of an album. The 2007 sophomore effort from the indie-alternative prog-rock band Circa Survive is celebrating its ten year mark in the trendy, lucrative way that has recently bestowed many of our favorite indie records: an anniversary tour.

(See Jimmy Eat World, Brand New, Saves the Day, and of course, Circa Survive’s other fan favorite record, Juturna, which was toured in 2015).

Now ten years old, the album remains something of a masterpiece — somehow still dripping with urgency. Colin Frangicetto’s and Brendan Ekstrom’s guitar tones bleed, bend and blend, battling against one another like two storms converging. Nick Beard, one of the best rock bassists playing today, dives underneath the waves and tells his own hidden story, while the drummer, Steve Clifford, provides the album’s structure that keeps it all from crumbling. On top of it all, of course, we have the famed scene-hero frontman (and total weirdo) Anthony Green, whose high range vocals and mysterious lyrics complete Circa Survive’s impossible sound.

Perhaps most amazing about On Letting Go, however, isn’t its uniqueness, but rather how approachable and accessible it is.

Strip away all the layers and at its heart you’ll find a rather straightforward pop-rock record. Song lengths are mostly average for radio play; almost every song has a catchy chorus that repeats. It’s a wonderful paradox: anti-mainstream that hooks. Besides a few selections from the Mars Volta catalogue, there isn’t much else that compares in this way to On Letting Go.

It’s with this reverence I approached Circa Survive’s On Letting Go anniversary concert in Seattle, Washington on February 18, 2017 at the Showbox SoDo. mewithoutYou and Turnover were scheduled to perform as supporting acts, which was great news for me: mewithoutYou is a lifelong favorite band, and Turnover’s Peripheral Vision (2015) was one of my most listened to records from last year.

Turnover

Listen closely to Turnover and you will hear hints of Sunny Day Real Estate, but that’s where the Seattle connection ends. This is a Virginia band. If there is such a thing as a “Seattle look,” however, then Turnover has it. They hit the stage looking like something that had just crawled out from under a rock in the Puget Sound. Sweaters from the 90s. Long, unwashed hair. Not a look exclusive to Seattle, I know, but on this night grunge was alive and well at the Showbox.

Turnover’s melodic pop-punk flooded the venue with a wave of earnest nostalgia, capturing the audience unprepared for a slow dance. I closed my eyes and sailed off into the dreamy set that included “Cutting My Fingers Off”, “New Scream”, and “Dizzy on the Comedown.” In the midst of this glorious musical moment of transcendence, I was able to recognize that Turnover is a very boring live band for those unfamiliar with the music. Some from the crowd were singing along but not many. Together the band played impressively and sounded adequate, but individually the members seemed almost uninterested in what they were doing.

Maybe it is a trend for young indie bands: act cool and calm on stage, especially in Seattle, the hipster mecca. Call me old school, but I believe a little showmanship couldn’t hurt.

mewithoutYou

mewithoutYou’s professionalism on stage is something I have always respected. This includes in between sets, i.e., how quickly they set up and take down their gear. They are not interested in partaking in the annoying affectation of keeping an audience waiting. When it is mewithoutYou’s turn to perform, they perform. And when they do perform, they play with heart, soul, and sweat (lots of sweat). I have seen mewithoutYou seven, maybe eight times, and never have I felt cheated out of a better performance.

This includes the Showbox SoDo on February 18, 2017 — mewithoutYou killed it.

Their career-spanning set had something for everyone, including two in a row from their exhaustingly (and wonderfully) loud debut record, [A→B] Life. From their later stuff, I particularly loved hearing “The Angel of Death Came to David’s Room” from It’s All Crazy! It’s All False! It’s All a Dream! It’s Alright, a favorite song that had so far eluded me in all my years of seeing them live.

Circa Survive

Circa Survive did make us wait before finally showing up, but the audience needed the break. It was a sold out show and excruciatingly stuffy. Showbox’s price-gouging profits from the 40% convenience fee on tickets, I suppose, didn’t go towards the building’s much needed HVAC.

The set began with the reveal of Circa Survive’s impressive set design: large circular screens at each end of the stage displaying the balloon from the On Letting Go cover. As the band performed these screens would change, playing trippy, visceral images that moved and synced with the music. Many bands eschew ambitious set designs in small venues, but I was glad for the effort. The strangeness of the moving art complemented the music and contributed overall to the layered, mysterious atmosphere that is Circa Survive.

The band kicked off their expected setlist of On Letting Go, and I realized at that moment that the last time I saw Circa Survive was 10 years ago. They were supporting their then new album (On Letting Go), opening for Thrice at the House of Blues, Anaheim, CA. It is a show that lives in my memory as one of my all-time favorites. 

10 years later, I noticed fairly quickly that Anthony Green’s voice had aged. Of course, we have all changed over the past ten years (I can no longer fit in my old Circa Survive t-shirt!). Some weathering on his voice is to be expected. I was disappointed, however, to hear Green scream so many of the singing parts. I wondered if this was due to a switch in style or to a limit to of his abilities. This is not to say that Green can no longer carry a tune. The guy can still howl, his range remaining an incredible feat. To cement this point, I tried to sing along in a lower octave and still found myself at the end of the night with a tiny headache from trying to mentally track along with Green’s high register.

The only surprise in the setlist was a b-side from the album’s era. No encore of non-On Letting Go songs, disappointing fans like me who never saw the band on their Blue Sky Noise tour. But it’s hard to complain after seeing one of your favorite albums performed from start to finish by the original band members who created it.

Coda

As I left the show, the overindulgence that comes from taking part in cash-grab nostalgia left me in despair. My memories of listening to On Letting Go in its newness, of seeing the band live while drifting in my seemingly limitless years of youth, these are things I cannot get back, and yet my expectations told me differently.

Like anyone I am guilty of wanting the past to return. I bought a ticket, as if for time travel, to walk backwards into a music venue and rediscover an old life. To put it back on like a jacket.

But that jacket did not fit.

Circa Survive could have their best years ahead of them, but right now their eyes are on the past. 

I’m hoping I get to see Circa Survive again. I’m hoping next time it will be a ticket to the future.

 

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