Crystal Castles, MM/DD/YYYY and Picture Plane June 16, 2008 Cervantes Masterpiece Ballroom
Crystal Castles have been the subject of a lot of hype: Plenty of internet savvy music buffs have read the charming stories about the band’s inception having been a joke for the benefit of a few friends that managed to become wildly popular. Most listeners probably heard about how the group’s first single was the result of a sound check during which the lead singer, Alice Glass, didn’t even know she was being recorded. These anecdotes reflect a lot about the band in terms of where intentionality lies and what makes the band so darn attractive, which translates interestingly into a live show experience. Regardless of all the hype, there is no question about the intent of Crystal Castles' shows: to play loud music along with which people can bounce and flail their bodies.
Pictureplane contributed to the cause in an unexpected appearance after an excessive period of waiting for the suckers (myself included) who showed up for the announced door time but were instead treated to kick-drum sound checks overheard from the sidewalk as the D-line dinged down Welton. Clad with a pink Coors truckers hat, a Kelly Clarkson tour T-shirt and armed with a keyboard and a microphone, the one-man act announced – “I’m from this town, I just got on this show like an hour ago,” and thanked Crystal Castles for having him.
It was apparent that the audience hadn’t expected any openers (as they rightfully shouldn’t have, given that none had been officially announced) as they reluctantly let Picture Plane’s beats and surprisingly pleasant vocals get the night started. Offering more of a dance party vibe than a concert performance, Pictureplane set the pace for his successors with the length of his set, which was no more than forty minutes.
In spite of the initial delay in getting the doors opened and the show started, things began clipping along as DD/MM/YYYY quickly took the stage and clued the audience in to the pronunciation of their name: “Day Month Year.” Each band member seemed to have a round trip itinerary around the stage with stops at each instrument with very little noticeable change in style or ability – both of which were high. The group's spastic, repetitive melodies relied on the nuanced timekeeping of the drummer(s) and continually alternated between relentless lead guitar, vocal ping-pong, and effectively devastating breakdowns involving key and tempo changes. By no means averse to the effective utilization of dissonance, Day Month Year evoked USAISAMONSTER, AIDS Wolf, and perhaps even Animal Collective in a sort of energetic noise pop consolation effort. The band also knew not to overstay its welcome and wrapped up with a song that had the only recognizable yelpy lyrics from the set – “the Crystal Castles are the best.”
While most of the songs on the Crystal Castles self titled album rely on chopped, distorted, and pitch-shifted vocals that intertwine with, supplement and become part of the sample rich beat, Crystal Castles live shows have come to be symbolized by Alice’s bent over body screaming incomprehensible lyrics into the mike behind straight black hair, eyeliner, and sweat dripping onto the audience from front and center stage. The real dance fuel, though – the drums, synth, and sampling – is provided by a couple of guys that fade to the edges of the stage, hard to appreciate or even spot while being blinded by strobe lights seemingly designed to emphasize the writhing vocal delivery and physical catharsis of Alice Glass.
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There were a few moments where I recalled a part of a song being distinctly different on the album, but in large part the band replicated the tracks through a loud enough system to get bodies moving -- and very few bodies in the room were there for a reason other than to move (or to be seen moving.) At times I was a bit suspicious because of how faithfully the songs were reproduced, especially when I caught stop motion glimpses of Alice inaudibly belting out words, but was reassured by a particularly noticeable expansion of the whispered vocal parts, as well as a few instances in which she had to cut short a sustained yell in order to catch her breath.
Admittedly, though, I didn’t spend a whole lot of time looking at the stage because Alice’s slight stature didn’t exactly make her visible over the raised hands and bobbing heads, which encouraged me to follow suit and groove down. While I can’t say for sure that I was aware of what was going on from the stage, I recognized the tunes and willingly let them serve their purpose.
-- Crow Jonah Norlander