Crystal Castles at First Avenue, 5/5/13
with Pictureplane and Invisibles
First Avenue, Minneapolis
May 5, 2013
Last night in the Mainroom, Crystal Castles didn't speak a single word to their audience. Not even one. The closest they came to addressing the crowd was when singer Alice Glass repeatedly lit up cigarettes between songs and stood, impassively, looking out over the room. (And yes, last we checked, smoking isn't allowed inside First Ave. Bad girl, indeed.)
Oh, and of course there were all the times that Glass waded out into the audience to crowd surf or to sing, foisted up on the hands of her fans. But that was another thing altogether.
No, for Crystal Castles the night was all about raw power and lacerating noise, music shrouded in bright lights and blinding smoke that trod deep into sensory overload. There was no room--or need--for platitudes.
It was a packed house inside First Ave, and from the minute that the Canadian duo (or technically trio, in their live configuration) hit stage, the room was a sea of arms and green glow sticks waving in the air. The crowd answered in kind to the sheer physicality of the music, elbowing and shoving their way past each other to get a better view, climbing over railings and walls to get there. There was the sense, underlying it all, that spring had perhaps finally arrived, and people were damn well going to celebrate--Sunday night or not.
Onstage, once the swelling notes that opened "Plague" gave way to Glass's screams, there was little let up in the band's assault. Even as the barrage of drums and bass that closed off "Wrath of God" early in the set was followed up by the ebullient, downright poppy melody of "Crimewaves," it was only a momentary lull; before long, it almost ceased to matter what song was being played. The point--reinforced, perhaps, by the crowd cheering for the opening notes of virtually every song--was more that each one be as punishing as the last.
While Ethan Kath was busy winding off his array of beats and beeps and glitches in the middle of stage, his equipment spread out over a pair of crates, it was Glass who went about harnessing all the chaos in the room with her delirious, vicious presence. Her purple hair, cut short with bangs, was matched in color by her tights, and she wore black lipstick with a Cannibal Corpse t-shirt. (A nice touch.) When she wasn't stopping to smoke a cig, which happened on at least four occasions, she was throwing her mike stand to the floor, or holding it over her head like an offering.
In many ways, it felt like the kind of rock 'n' roll experience that most rock bands can't dream of delivering these days, just done, perhaps tellingly, through a prism of dance and electronic music. (These are songs, after all, best heard live.) Beyond the force of the music itself, and the fact that the lights alternated between blinding and seizure-inducing--often leaving the band members as silhouettes, at best--Glass careened back and forth with abandon. And when she climbed out into the audience and rode atop them, she delivered her words as though they were commands, or more precisely a means of submission.
Somewhat ironically, it was the instrumental medley kicked off by "Vanished" towards the end of the main set that really seemed to ratchet the night into its highest gear. Glass joined Kath behind the mixing board, and the two worked in unison for several minutes, dancing and scratching between ricocheting beats and rattling samples, until collapsing together on the floor. By then, the crowd was in full frenzy, with several girls climbing up onto other peoples' shoulders, and all of room blurring into an increasingly unsteady mass of sweaty, swaying bodies.
And so it was that Glass ventured out into the room one last time during the encore, and for once her words seemed clear, not distorted or manipulated beyond recognition. But even then, she wasn't really saying much, per se. She merely asked a question: "Yes? No? Maybe so?"
Personal Bias: As much as I prefer not having my ears ring after a concert (even with earplugs in, mind you), there's a lot to be said for getting brutalized at a show, isn't there?
The Crowd: Nowhere near sober.
Overheard in the Crowd: "How do I know you? Don't I know your face?"
Random Notebook Dump: We did, in fact, have a photographer lined up for the show last night--one Mr. Erik Hess--and he duly showed up to shoot pictures. Unfortunately, for reasons that weren't made clear, we found out only at showtime that the band wouldn't be allowing photo access. A real shame, for the pictures would have been spectacular.
Wrath of God
Not in Love
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