Circle - Café Cairo, Würzburg Germany, 6.12.02
From Aural Innovations #22 (January 2003)
After touring with the Acid Mothers Temple in their native Finland, Circle broke off on their own and made their first trip to Germany (apart from a one-off performance at a recent Burg Herzberg) in about six years. So, whereas AMT came through my current homeland of Switzerland to do three dates in succession, Circle made it more difficult on me by "forcing" me to take a day off from work to ride a train north for about 5 hours into the heart of the country in scenic Würzburg. They were to play the very next night (a Saturday) in Munich, which is perhaps a little closer, but I had already visited there and already arranged to spend that day visiting the city of Würzburg. Which I then did, including a hike up Ste. Mary's Hill on the west bank of the River Main, where one can find the historic castle complex of "Marienburg Festung" as well as a great view of the city below. And straight down from this overlook sits the Jugendkulturhaus (essentially a 'youth hostel') which houses the Café Cairo establishment, the very site of Friday night's festivities. My travel plans weren't quite as well-prepared as one would like, given that I couldn't manage to get on a bus that took me directly to my hotel (far from the Altstadt since those seemed all to be booked up). I learned the hard way that Bus No. 26 has *two* different routes (why are they both called 26 then?), but I improvised and did manage to check in and turn back around toward towncenter soon enough. Of course, then there was no bus back at that time, so only after a sizeable walk back to town was I able to make my way toward Café Cairo.
At 9:45, I finally walked into the door of the Jugendkulturhaus and heard something quite rumbly and hypnotic-like coming from the floors above, and swore to myself as I raced up the spiral staircase (two floors) to find the club entrance and the cashier at the open door. So I didn't have to wipe the fog from my glasses to know they'd already gone on, as I handed over some denomination of Euros to the man, who perhaps sensing my concern at perhaps missing much of the show (advertised for 9:00 start) as he made change and said, in effect, "They've only just started - this is the first song." Ah, cool - waiting for the bus would have been a huge mistake - I'd have missed much more than just four minutes or so that way! I kinda expected there to be an opening act with such an early start time, but apparently not.
Café Cairo is a cozy place, obviously a coffee bar by day with tables and chairs, but of course these had been taken away leaving just enough space for ~100 of us to arrange ourselves as we wished. I didn't recognize the opening piece, but I soon noticed the songlist laying out on the soundboard at the back of the club. Song 1 was entitled "Alotus," so we were hearing the title track from the next album due out on Klangbad (Faust's home label... interestingly, one Hans-Joachim Irmler was visible in the audience this night!) any day now. The 2002-vintage five-piece Circle features three new members compared to when I first saw them in the USA in 2000. Mikka Rättö (of Moonfog Prophet, aka Kuusumun Profeetta) is now the lead singer of Circle as well, and he also helps out new drummer Tomi Leppänen on his own smaller percussion kit. Joining veteran Jyrki Laiho on guitars is Janne Westerlund. Jussi Lehtisalo is the lone original member now (still running the Ektro label back in Pori) and onstage these days he sticks to playing the bass (and doing occasional vocals), though in years past he's played guitar and various keyboards as well. "Alotus" was still going strong and building in intensity as I worked my way forward - I was trying to figure out where the keyboards were hidden on stage, because I could definitely hear freaky sounds and such in the mix. Eventually I could tell that the soundman has a digital playback unit linked up with a small module containing several knobs and such, so that he (Teemu is his name, or rather just "T-Mu") was actually a sixth member of the band this night, albeit less visible.
For the next tune, Jussi took over on vocals (while Mika sat down at his kit to drum away) for a track entitled (at least for the moment) simply "G." In not-so-atypical Circle fashion, Jussi's baseline seemed to consist of mostly just this one note, but then the great thing about this band is how much they can do with so little. The dueling guitars were uncharacteristic though, both doing their own thing in "lead" fashion simultaneously, which skewed the sound mix a little too much towards the bass. But this only was momentarily, because the driving rhythm guitars came back soon enough to reestablish the proper 'pyramid of sound' that's so important here. The next tune, another 'prototype-in-progress' called simply "Judas Priest" on the setlist (some sort of inside joke there I'm guessing), eventually kicked into an excellent metallized "chorus" of sorts that indeed had a bit of 'Stained Class' character to it. But unfortunately the enhanced volume blew the power to the PA stack on stage right during the climactic point. Oh well, an onstage visit by someone-in-the-know quickly solved that problem, as the track continued into an extended section with one of the guitarists (Jyrki I think) doing some interesting e-bow/glissando-style playing.
The highlight of the night came next in the form of a 15-minute blistering version of "Dedofiktion" from the 'Prospekt' album. After what seemed to take an eternity in build-up (only acting to enhance the expectation), the break into Riff#2 finally occurred with the five uniformly set into a dynamic groove that got many of us up near the front (especially) jammin' out to this wonderful hypnotic slurry of sound! After an interesting impromptu sidebar piece that feature Mika and Jussi doing semi-spoken vocalizations against a simple traditional melody (complete with military-style percussion cadence and copious sonic effects), Circle *finally* played a couple tracks from the new album, "Sunrise." "Vaanen vatiatar" started with a laid-back 'climbing' and 'looping' riff as on the album, but in the end it became another medium for crazed expression from Mika as he did he best Michael Jackson impersonation with one hand firmly inside his own trousers. Not to be outdone, Jussi showed how limber his sturdy Nordic frame could be when he literally bent over backwards during the final climactic moments of the performance during the album's opener "Nopeuskuningas." An excellent finish to a sonic-blitzkrieg of a set!
Encores were again unfamiliar works (they're never hesitant to try out new things each and every night!). As such, while some interesting moments occurred here and there, these works still need a little 'hashing out' to get them into proper form I think. Everyone hung around for this additional 'rehearsal' though, and the crowd was duly pleased to have them play a full 110-minute set, high energy throughout. There's no doubt that this show outdid those that they did in the US several years ago, mainly because of the extra length and the more enthusiastic audience here that the band obviously drew 'energy' from. With "Sunrise" being such a strong album and a somewhat unique from all previous works, due especially to Rättö's very peculiar falsetto-ish delivery, Circle continues to be among a short list of my favorite currently-active groups in the world today. Well worth a journey of five hours... I'd do it again in a minute.
Reviewed by Keith Henderson