live review

Crystal Castles

Crystal Castles

January 15 2013
The Studio, Auckland

Reviewed by Chirstopher Hunt
16th January 2013

We’re an unfortunate bunch here in old New Zealand. We have become accustomed to being ignored by world-class artists time and time again, tour after tour. So when one of our staples of musical history, the Big Day Out, was tragically disbanded, the vast majority of us exhaled a much warranted sigh of bleakness. One of the most inviting gates of musical voyages into this country had closed, and with it, put on hold the BDO’s shimmering history of classic acts, shows, and experiences. However, as they say, as one door closes… another door opens. And that door happened to open a phrase that NZ is somewhat unfamiliar to, and that is “side shows”. Band of Horses, Animal Collective, Alabama Shakes, and Crystal Castles were all given their own intimate and personal shows throughout Auckland this week as a ‘substitutes’ for the BDO where they are scheduled to play in Australia.

After my all-time favourite band, Animal Collective, were cancelled five days ago (link to page?), Crystal Castles were an act that were not to be missed in this flurry of BDO sideshows. A lot has been said about Crystal Castle’s live performances, and after their last subdued gig in NZ (2011 BDO boiler room where front woman, Alice Glass, was restricted to crutches), the Crystal Castles Studio gig had many of us foaming at the mouth. This is because Crystal Castles are a band that absolutely flourish in intimate venues where there tends to be little restrictions on start/finishing time, less volume issues, and the freedom of just doing ‘what the eff’ they want. While BDO veterans will debate this fact until the cows come home, but, the cancellation of the BDO gave us the unique chance to see a handful of artists perform to their full potential, and musicianship, that would have been otherwise  impossible given the context of a sole BDO performance. And that is the silver lining of the cancelled BDO cloud.

As for Crystal Castles performance however, it was intense. Possibly the most energetic live act I have seen in Auckland for a long time. There was not one forehead left unperspirated and not one shoe left intact. The opening song, Plague, set the crowd into immediate frenzies. Alice Glass’s glorious frame, silhouetted against the vast waves of strobes and Ethan Kath’s catastrophic wall of sound, ignited the intimate Studio into a pure indie-rave for a solid ninety minutes of distorted bliss. Few people could make out Glass’s vocals amidst her heavily effected vocals, but the mosh-pit did not cease to slow down until the final synth key had been released.

After the extraordinary opening of Plague, they managed to turn up the heat even more with two classics off their sophomore album, Baptism and Suffocation. The crowd were ecstatic. That was where I lost my left shoe. It was not until three songs later when I was reunited with my wandering shoe as the crowd were given a slight ‘break’, in the form of the laidback ‘dubstepy’ vibes of Pale Flesh (off latest album, III) . This just gave the group a chance, however, to demolish us with the contrastingly heavy tune, Alice Practise. The tempo did little to falter from here onwards as we were treated to a string of oldies and singles. Reckless gave in to the gloriously worked Empathy as they began toying with their plethora of on-stage equipment in the UK jungle inspired jam of Vanished/Crypocracy.

Throughout the gig, Alice Glass indulged in her infamous stage diving, sending the front row bros into seedy arm reaching furies. It’s a simple action that sets Alice Glass apart from the majority of all other female performers. She’s not scared of the unknown. She happily ventures into the darkness, both physically and musically (albeit under the reliable guiding hand of Ethan Kath). She forms a small minority of international bands who keep their punk/DIY aesthetics of small underground groups that have “nothing to lose”. It’s a refreshing characteristic that will always leave the audience thankful of witnessing such a group in their prime upon future hindsight.

Alice Glass’s stage diving continued as Crystal Castles closed their set with Black Panther and Platinum Blonde cover, Not In Love, which ended amidst a roar of appreciation from the crowd. The roar continued until the group re-emerged after a very brief break to end with an encore consisting of Intimate, Sad Eyes, and live favourite, Yes No. While the entire crowd was left weeping for more, many patrons exhaled a breath of satisfied fatigue. We were brought into Crystal Castles dark and fanatic world with little complaints. Shirts were sticking to bodies and heads were dripping with moisture but not one man or woman were left wearing frowns or faces of exasperation . As hectic and aggressive as the concert was, the overall feel of comradery and musical appreciation was never far from physicality. Yes, it really is sad that thousands will not experience that magic and beauty of the BDO this year, but at least we were treated to a group’s own unique magic and beauty that is generally hidden behind the invisible veil of the BDO. Alice Glass and Ethan Kath gave last night’s audience enough to talk about until the BDO makes its return (hopefully!) in the very short future.

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