Circles Around The Sun Stirs Up Some California Psych At Half Moon Bay’s Old Princeton Landing (SHOW REVIEW)

It was during a set break at one of the 2015 Soldier Field Grateful DEad Fare Thee Well celebration shows that this author kept drifting in an out of a conversation with friends, soaking up the surroundings as much as possible. Familiar notes of music filled the air. But upon a closer listen, the familiar melodies that caught my ear were actually quite unique. I thought it was Dead music. It was. But the more I listened, it was something else. 

Circles Around the Sun is a project that came together when musicians Neal Casal, Adam MacDougall, Mark Levy, and Dan Horne created original music to be played pre-show and during set-break at the five Fare Thee Well Grateful Dead shows. The songs built from a core Dead beat, but never dropped into full Dead territory. The songs blossom into their own thing never quite going into full Grateful Dead territory, but always respecting the spirit of their musical inspiration. Take “Farewell Franklin’s” for example – sure, you can guess the skeletal theme the song embodies, but upon a close listen it is a purely unique enterprise swirling with a Deadesque “Franklin’s Tower” groove, that’s never really “Franklin’s Tower” at all. 

Circles has not played that many shows live, making their debut only two years ago in 2016 at the Lockn’ festival. Last Saturday night Circles Around the Sun brought their crew to Half Moon Bay for an intimate show at the Old Princeton Landing supporting the necessary work of (check them out!). Minus a few power issues, the show had the pure, loose feel of an outdoor California Coast show. With nothing but a kaleidoscope color palate of swirling lights backing the four-piece groove project, the quaint crowd took in a soundscape that fluidly blended a mixture of bliss, funk, and space throughout two sets. 

This is not a cover band folks. This is original, California inspired psychedelic music that weaves its beats together as if it were one long extended audio journey into the soul of Grateful Dead music. With a steady drumbeat ready to swing and sway at a moments notice, and a 70’s Phil Lesh bouncy style of bass providing both backbone and beat, the keys and guitar shine through the clear connection Casal and MacDougall share. 

 While adventures seemed to pour from the keys and guitar, the quartet as a whole has a clear chemistry. They show patience while developing an idea musically and share it amongst each other on stage dynamically.  My only hope is they play more shows. And maybe toy with the idea of 2-hour sets as it would be a better platform given the deep nature of the music. To this reviewers ears its a fresh twist on timeless music that goes to the places you want to go. Its both danceable and galactic. Whether you’re down with Grateful Dead music or not is moot with Circles. Give their new album “Let It Wander” a spin and you’ll get a healthy dose of what this band is capable of in a live format. Their studio work is super sharp, but for the full one-of-a-kind effect, I hope you get to catch them in a live setting soon. 

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