Circa Survive // Live in Stroudsburg, PA

I’m a firm believer that no one can claim musical connoisseurship until they’ve seen a Circa Survive show.  In an age where most concert attendees spend entire shows with their faces buried into their phones, the progressive punk quintet is redefining how to experience live music.  As Circa Survive hit the stage at the Sherman Theater in Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania, wrapping up a 7 week-long spring tour in support of Descensus, the band’s fifth, latest and, in my opinion, greatest album yet, it delivered another lesson in how to be 100% present, invested in the music and untethered from material concern.

After blistering sets by fellow progressive punks CHON and Balance & Composure (who also hail from Circa’s hometown of Doylestown, Pennsylvania), Circa Survive frontman Anthony Green greeted the crowd with the request that they yell as loud as they possibly could to let out the frustrations of the day.  On the count of three, he led the room in a collective primal scream as the band tore into its current single, “Child Of The Desert”.  It was a perfect opener as Green’s refrain of, “Nesting in the thorn bush, blowing in the breeze,” invoked a collision of adrenaline and hypnosis.  The band steadily built to the song’s explosive climax, after which I believe the room separated from its concrete foundation and spun like a Gravitron.  At no point did our feet touch the ground.

Much of the joy in seeing Circa Survive live is watching the crowd swell and pulsate with the music.  I’ve never seen people go out of their mind as much as they do at a Circa show.  Anthony Green controls a room like a mad sorcerer.  As the audience continuously lifts and carries one another to reach him, bodies seem to float midair beneath his grip.  It’s a dance that is elegant in its violence, magical in its terror.  

We hardly came up for air as the band played an even mix of songs from all five of their albums.  The evening, and ultimately the entire tour, was brought to a poignant close with Descensus’ final track, the heartwrenching, 7 minute-long ballad “Nesting Dolls”.  This particular song was highlighted in Circa Survive’s revealing profile on Huffington Post, in which writer Ryan Kristobak described the song as reflective of the adversity the band had to overcome to write their album.  Upon the song’s completion, Kristobak elaborated, the members of Circa Survive couldn’t gather the courage to listen to it in full.  I never thought I would hear this song live and Green himself introduced it as, “the saddest song we’ve ever written”.  

This song brought something I’ve never seen at a Circa Survive show: a motionless crowd.  They stood in an almost meditative state, proving their recognition of the pain that inspired the song.  All five members of Balance & Composure filed in to join on percussion duties, bringing a tribal thunder to Steve Clifford’s already hypnotic cadence.  If “Nesting Dolls” is a song about a broken heart, this performance put its pieces back together.

All the pain and aggression Circa Survive bring into the studio transform in the live setting to human connection and profound catharsis.  That’s not something you can find looking through a screen.  Next time they come to your town, leave your phone behind and prepare for a life-changing experience.

SETLIST
Child Of The Desert
Schema
Strange Terrain
Through The Desert Alone
Glass Arrows
Sharp Practice
The Difference Between Medicine and Poison Is The Dose
In The Morning and Amazing
Phantom
Only The Sun
Holding Someone’s Hair Back
In Fear and Faith
The Great Golden Baby
Nesting Dolls

Encore:
Get Out

Words and Photos by: Wendy McCardle

Carolyn Lederach

Philadelphia, PA