It took all of 30 seconds into their show at Boston’s The Sinclair on Wednesday night to see that the members of psychedelic instrumentalist band Circles Around The Sun are incredibly excited for this spring tour. Right off the starting line of the show opening “Saturday’s Children,” Adam MacDougall was flailing jubilantly over his multiple keyboards, dishing out a spectrum of eerie and intriguing wails between synthesizer and piano.
Meanwhile Dan Horne, in his motorcycle repairman-looking monkey suit, probably didn’t stand still all night long, high-stepping around the stage in time with his huge bass lines. And Mark Levy, on the beat in the back, had the biggest cheesiest grin smeared across his face. The band hid nothing about their unhinged enthusiasm which seemed to verge on pure giddiness.
And for all their infectious enthusiasm, the music of Circles Around The Sun is at a premium state right now. This band broke onto the scene years back in a big way with a signature comfy approach to deep, funky improvisation—a strange yet somehow also natural sounding intersection between the laid back and the bizarre. Levy and Horne have always been the anchors in this regard, together creating wide-ranging rhythms that are repetitive but that are totally mesmerizing in an in-the-pocket way.
As The Sinclair showing revealed, the music for CATS is still the ultimate playtime, a canvas for throwing a variety of things at the wall and seeing what sticks (and right now that even includes a whole bunch of hand percussion fun from Horne and MacDougall). While their audience definitely connects with that sense of play, the music for the band is also clearly a serious presentation, too: these guys have a reverence for getting things to sound as pristine and as envisioned as they can.
Then there’s newcomer John Lee Shannon. There must be at least the smallest of ghosts Whether it’s on purpose or coincidental, Shannon actually somewhat channels Casal’s own stage presence: he’s not bouncing around like the other guys, but instead seeming to his concentration right into his playing, treating the music with a thoughtfulness that brings out beautiful choices in notes. Yet, Shannon has his own thing going on, too. In his lead moments he gets a cool, fuzzy guitar sound, bringing CATS material a little closer to the land of heady psych punk made by bands today like King Gizzard and Thee oh Sees. Suffice to say, he’s a great addition to CATS evolving yet recognizable sound, bringing his own style to the table but blending in seamlessly with the band’s explorative sensibility. At The Sinclair he helped lead a standout version of “One For Chuck,” at the peak of which his solo had The Sinclair cheering in a short but powerful collective high.
In an opposite corner, the band’s newer material strikes a noticeable difference in their slowly expanding repertoire. “Babyman” is not the wandering sprawl of earlier CATS material, but for its pick as the encore at The Sinclair, the band rode it out for a great, hard-driving disco jam that rocked the house just as much.
On board for the entirety of CATS tour is soulful singer-songwriter—and prolific harpist—Mikaela Davis. Davis is an unexpectedly brilliant choice as an opener for a Circles Around The Sun show. With her delicate yet intricate ballads her solo performance on stage was low key, subdued; on paper not the kind of set one might pick to set the room for Circles. Davis’ performance was also focused, and as trippy as the main band’s most far reaching musical moments. She’s the perfect opener here because she gets the audience in that colorful headspace. But in this same way, being that her performance is so quietly intense, Davis makes the night totally her own, turning her half of the evening into not so much an opening set but her own little separate concert.
Granted, if you listen to her studio stuff, you might agree that Davis' songwriting benefits greatly with the extra instrumention the comes from her band Southern Star. She definitely has a real flair for creating catchy pop grooves with the full funky band behind her. Those guys will jump on tour with the singer and CATS come April. But, that being said, Davis has a special skill in translating these catchy songs into wholly different solo arrangements for just her and her harp that are still captivating. “In My Groove,” her set closer in Boston, was a prime example.
While Boston didn’t get Circles Around The Sun and Davis together yet, the two artists did perform live for the first time a new single called “Language” last night at the tour stop in Norfolk, CT, at Infinity Music Hall. (Check out a brief clip from the band’s instagram at the bottom.)