I had the pleasure of attending a Circles show at the Sinclair in Cambridge, MA on Monday. I was definitely looking forward to this as I’ve been a big fan of their studio work and many of their songs have found their way onto my playlists. Started originally by the fantastic guitarist Neal Casal, who originally started the project during the Dead’s Fare Thee Well tour in 2015, actually spawned his project into a full-blown album producing and touring band. Casal passed away in 2019, and now the band is comprised of three core band members, Adam MacDougall, Mark Levy, and Dan Horne.
They have that sort of groovy, jazzy funk sound that brings in layers of Phish, the Dead, and Umphree’s McGee all at the same time. It was very fun to see this combination play out live in such an intimate venue. Thick, pounding bass lines carry most of their songs and get the whole crowd moving in unison, while subtle but prominent drumming keeps the jams afloat. I was really impressed by the keyboardist who was featured for solos on nearly every song, and utilized a synthesizer and multiple toned pianos in most jams. His sound was audible even when the rest of the band was in full cry, and the large majority of the time it was a welcome overtone to the jams.
They only played a handful of actual titled songs, but each song would carry on for 7-10 minutes at least, and they did a good job of quickly transitioning from one piece to the next so that one jam never felt dissociated from the show as a whole. They would occasionally get into spacey areas when the guitarist would hit his petals and add some reverb, the drums slowed and the bass lines lingered. At these times it definitely reminded me of Dead jams, particular with the Jerry-ish tone the guitarist was using – which I definitely think is part of their appeal. Thats when the keys would come in and sort of float you along through the jam. The lights were decent and added to the “jammy” vibe as I call it (you probably know what I mean), but nothing special on that side.
For $20 on a casual Monday, this was a lot of fun. Circles Around the Sun has some chops, and it showed with their ability to improvise and carry a steady, groovy, bass-heavy rhythm through their tunes without any vocals whatsoever. It was relaxing but funky, and definitely was reminiscent of some old jams I couldn’t exactly place. Gilbert’s Groove was a highlight. The Sinclair is an awesome, intimate venue that should be explored. Plus I think they have a nice bar attached to it. I really liked the setup on the balcony as well where we were situated (actually, directly centered facing the stage with no obstructions). Worth the price of admission, for sure. 8/10
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