LIVE: Circle Takes the Square, Branx, Portland, OR

By Hollister Dixon

Before we go on, here’s a bit of a history lesson for you, in case you’re uninitiated: Back in 2000, Circle Takes The Square started in Gainesville, GA. Over the course of their first four years, they released three things: a self-titled EP, a split 12″ with compatriots Pageninetynine, and As The Roots Undo, an album that a lot of people consider to be their magnum opus. Following this, the band grew quiet. After touring the album, they retreated to write new music, or to recharge, or something. Around 2006, a live demo, called “Ritual of Names”, appeared on the band’s MySpace page. The band underwent a considerable amount of lineup changes, which – if you’re exceptionally nerdy about music – is usually a bad sign. Drew Speziale and Kathy Coppola, the band’s sole original members, began talking about a new album, though nothing came of it. Nothing, until “Ritual Of Names” appeared as “Enter By The Narrow Gates” on their second album called Decompositions: Volume One, which finally saw the light of day in 2012, 8 years after their first record.

In a recent interview with Noisey, Speziale described CTTS as “an old growth forest” when asked about the prospect of new music beyond Decompositions, and in hindsight, this is both the best possible thing for the band’s music, and the best possible way to describe a band that made a name for themselves by failing to keep going. The group never broke up, but instead entered a weird hibernation, and never let anybody else in on that. With a lot of hardcore/emo/screamo/skramz/whatever bands, there’s almost always a clean break: these bands get together, release an album or two, a few split 7″s, and part ways. Band like Hot Cross (7 years) and Pageninetynine (6 years) are outliers in a lot of ways because they lasted longer than their peers (Saetia and City of Caterpillar both got 3 years, and Portraits of Past managed 3 over the course of 15 years), but those bands always “broke up”. Circle Takes The Square left everyone hanging in some ways, because they never said anything, they just existed, like screamo’s answer to Schrodinger’s Cat. But, the faithful stuck around. I discovered As The Roots Undo at 14, and it quickly became a very, very important record to me, so every single little hint at activity had me very, very ready for new music – and, maybe, the possibility of the chance to see them perform. And so I waited a decade. And I finally got my chance.

The fortunate thing about live hardcore bands is that they’re incredible to watch, but the unfortunate thing is that they’re very difficult to actually write about. The visceral nature of this music is that, even at its worst, the best thing possible is to experience it in front of you, rather than described. It’s an absolute shame, really, because the three opening bands of the evening – Carrion Spring, The Sky Above and Earth Below, and Sloths – were all three absolutely incredible, blow-out-your-eardrums-and-blast-your-face-off bands. As someone who is constantly unaware of the quality of certain scenes in Portland, these are three bands, and three performances, that served as a reminder that – YES – Portland knows how to do blistering, wonderful hardcore extremely well. It feel like a cop-out to sit down and tell you, dear reader, that “you shoulda been there!” when trying to tell you about bands… but, really, the best way to experience these bands is to just go see them. So, please: go see Sloths, The Sky Above and Earth Below, and Carrion Spring. They deserve your love and admiration, and they deserve better than my feeble attempt to tell you what they sound like.

And so, Circle Takes the Square. I want to get my fanboy excitement out of the way first. As The Roots Undo is an 8-song album. During their performance at Branx, they performed all of them. So, in case you’re wondering, I thought the show was very, very good, based on this alone.

Before the performance, I got the chance to speak with both Drew Speziale and Kathy Coppola and thank them for coming to Portland, and both seemed incredibly thankful for the kind words. I bring this up because, if you’re anything like me, you enjoy the dichotomy of incredibly nice musicians who create incredibly incendiary music – though this feels like it downplays the band’s live presence. The three members of the power trio (Caleb Collins, on drums/drum machine, is a monster, and it was fantastic to watch him play) blur the strange line between intensity and joy onstage, and it was clear during every moment that the band loves playing together. Speziale’s spent roughly half of his time onstage with a gigantic smile, which made my own joy feel less ridiculous; if the performer loves it as much as we do, how can it be wrong?

All said and done, the band played about 14 songs, with no encore, and each and every one of them felt truly special. Though the crowd didn’t explode for the new songs the same way it did for the old, there was a lot of love in the room for “the new stuff.” Each song performed felt like an unspoken promise fulfilled, and judging by the smiles of everyone in the crowd, I wasn’t the only one in the room that felt like that. CTTS hasn’t been in Portland since 2006, meaning that it’s entirely likely that a good chunk of the crowd has been waiting as long as I had been to see that performance. In hindsight, it all feels like the blink of an eye, and it feels so, so worth the wait. Circle Takes The Square are an old-growth forest, and I’m finally ready to accept that. I just hope the wait to see them again isn’t quite as long.

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