Dance Archives

Live: Crystal Castles Rule Hard


Will hurt you

Crystal Castles + Health + Team Robespierre + Apache Beat
Mercury Lounge
March 26, 2008

If you’ve managed to convincingly fuse chaotic basement-show art-punk with forbidding electro pummel-throb, it doesn’t even matter if your entire crowd is made up of expensively dressed no-job-having scarf-people more concerned with snapping camera-phone pictures than actually, like, dancing; your show is basically going to be the shit. That’s what happened with Crystal Castles last night. The previous night, Zach Baron had seen the Canadian synth-skree duo at Studio B in Greenpoint, an honest-to-God dance club, and he’d reported back great things. I sort of wish I’d seen that show, but even in the enthusiasm-dampening confines of the Mercury Lounge, they were something to behold.

Vocalist Alice Glass walked past me on her way to the stage, and she came up maybe to my elbow, but she looked like some sort of mythic demon up onstage: skin absurdly white, hair and eyes and clothes absurdly dark, mic chord twisted all around her arm, face screwed up into a vampirically evil perma-smile while she careened relentlessly around the stage and screeched incomprehensible babble. During the show, the only lighting was an extraordinarily bright strobe, so half the time the club was literally in total darkness. If you spend forty-five minutes staring at this girl while she wheels around strobe-lit like a thing possessed, you start to see things. There were instants when I could’ve sworn her face had turned bright red or she’d grown another eye. During the last song, when some chump jumped onstage to dance with her, I honestly wondered if she’d kill him. The next time the strobe blinked, he’d disappeared, so maybe she did.

Behind her, Ethan Kath and a touring drummer worked up a focused bass-heavy thump way more intense than their self-titled debut album, which I really like, might indicate. Live drummers for dance groups aren’t always the best idea, but these drums where mic’ed-up right, and the guy was willing and able to play hammering house beats without embellishing even a little, which made a big difference. They wisely stayed away from the prettier and glitchier stuff on the album, sticking instead with the straight-up bangers. It felt a bit like they were just playing the same track over and over again, but they needed for that for the sort of full-immersion experience they pulled off. And both of them knew to play the background while Glass terrorized the stage. I haven’t seen a band pull off anything like what they did last night since the Danse Macabre-era Faint, who were awesome, and who should come back and be awesome again. Crystal Castles’ live show is a singularly ferocious experience, and I almost hope they stay away from summer festival shows and the like just so they can maintain the purity of their mystique.

All four bands on last night’s bill worked some variation on the basement-show aesthetic. The LA four-piece Health found an intersection between jittery Troubleman Unlimited art-spazz and Boredoms tribal drone. This was almost theater: nobody but their monster of a primary drummer stuck to one instrument the whole time, and dudes would spend entire songs kneeling over cheap keyboards or single drums on the floor before jumping up and suddenly assuming frontman duty. Their vocals were distorted and manipulated enough to be effectively wordless, and their bass was missing a string, which probably doesn’t make too much difference when you’re only using it to make harsh electronic buzz-scrapes. But even as the band spent their entire set using everything to bash everything else out of shape, they never lost their sense of tectonic groove, and the effect was something like the drum solo from “Wipeout” falling slowly down a massive flight of granite stairs. Pretty good!

If the Brooklyn party-up five-piece Team Robespierre are postpunk, meanwhile, they’re only post- by virtue of their crappy Casios and the general impression that they might be joking (which, actually, is probably more punk than postpunk anyway). If you swapped out those Casios for Farfisas, they’d be the sort of band who would’ve opened for Screeching Weasel in 1995. They play obvious, obnoxious snot-garage, and so the Mercury Lounge probably isn’t the place for them; it’s always depressing to see a singer venturing out into the crowd and being met with blank stares. I liked that they ended their set with an onstage pigpile, though.

Openers Apache Beat are people with nice clothes who play spiky, squalid new-wave. Their singer has a serious Siouxsie Sioux razor-bleat, and the band does a nice job organizing their murk around shifty grooves. I’d probably like they better if they used the actual beat from “Apache,” though.