Circa A.M. & Coal Car Caboose

Andrew Olson

Reader Weekly

Circa A.M. and Coal Car Caboose lit up the night at Thirsty Pagan Brewing in Superior, Wis. and made for an exciting evening of ska and electronic art.

Coal Car Caboose opened the show with Jeff Ruhlmann, John Kostek, Par Sunderland, Esquile P. Jackson, Matt Gutzmann, and Brian Schanzenbach. Jeff Ruhlmann and other members of Caboose were formerly in the local band, Nothing Much.

With a few shows under their belt and a large following, Coal Car Caboose are approaching veteran bar-band status. The band chooses their covers well so they compliment their original songs. For example, on their tune “Broken Hearted," it is surrounded by swing covers and a bit of Sublime. Then when they went to other originals the change in the sound was seamless.

It was tightly packed in this Superior bar, but the sound was never overpowering. This was really emphasized by the next band, Circa A.M., out of Duluth, Min.

Often bands will play hard rock and force it on their listeners by playing with their amps turned up extremely loud (See: Spinal Tap “11"). At TPB, Circa A.M. kept their sound in check. It made the audience feel like the band was earning their ears and attention.

“In a venue as small as the Thirsty Pagan we have the advantage of turning the volume down on our drummer (machine) so we can get that same intensity at a lower volume," Allen Cragin said.

Circa A.M., a three-piece band, has Don Lisdahl, Josh Stern, and Allen Cragin. They have previously released three albums titled, Circa A.M., A Questionable Reaction, and A Tempest with Yourself Regarding Change.

“The three of us have many influences throughout many genres of music. The jazz and classical backgrounds we have definitely show the importance of dynamics in our music. I really can't categorize it myself, which in turn makes it special. I always enjoyed the description that if Miles Davis and Frank Zappa raised a child in a third world country...," Josh Stern said.

An artistic band, Circa A.M. plays with all sorts of electronics in their music. Influences from Miles Davis, Mars Volta, Melvins, Beck and Dropkick Murphy’s to Lionel Richie and Faith No More create a unique sound.

“Our shows have variety, not variety you can explain, variety you have to see and hear in person," Cragin said.

The majority of people identify with pop music and it gets them through their day. Circa A.M. have taken music and made it sound very different from the average band. They yell, play hard rock, and at times go electronically on a trip.

“Most of the songs reflect a certain mood or aspect of life. They may seem very random at times, but each part is very connected to us. No more crazy, mellow or confused than any standard day in Duluth. We actually do shorten the songs a bit for the recorded versions with the hope that they will fit into the 80 minute time constraint and complete the feel of the album," Cragin said.

Playing different music has gained and lost fans for Circa A.M. Stern talked about people’s opinions on the band and what he had heard.

“People like it or they don't, but the best compliments come from people that haven't liked the music. A young girl said after one of our shows that she really didn't like our music, but she couldn’t believe three guys could put out a sound like that, wow," Stern said.

On Circa A.M.’s song, “Legion Day", there was that sound that the young girl must have been referring to. The emotion of the piece had a depth hidden down deep in someplace dark, like the band was in a closed room and playing by themselves, separated from the world. Then there was this other component of the song that was reminiscent of a spaghetti western and Spanish guitar mixing with blues/jazz/New Orleans trumpet.

“That song stemmed from an early morning of depression for an individual that never left all day, but toward the evening that feeling was accepted and a comfort comes about. I think that I did watch 'The Good the Bad and the Ugly' at some point during the week of recording Legion Day," Cragin said.

What makes up the music of Circa A.M.?

“Guinness, Tequila, Asparagus, Mustard Seed, and Ranch Dressing," Stern said.

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