The Big Pink, Crystal Antlers Monday, November 23 Larimer Lounge Better Than: Getting whacked in the face by something warm, fuzzy and pissed off. A cat, maybe.
No subtleties here -- just two bands probably hyped before their time, leaning on a couple tricks each. Both, but particularly Crystal Antlers, put on engaging enough live shows that kept you from wishing you'd just stayed home and listened to the records. And the thing both bands do better than anything else is going big, which is a handy thing for a live show. But honestly, your $15 might have been better spent if they had both played their three best songs and everyone was in bed by midnight.
It might actually be quicker to explain how Crystal Antlers is not a screamo band. This initially may seem like a complete misread because they wear Chucks and have edgy, potentially genital related art on the cover of their EP and all that. But there it is: the slash-and-burn drums and guitar and the pained expressions and, of course, the screaming. This band gets a free pass because they're constantly playing feedback and because they do not seem quite so awkwardly vulnerable, but make no mistake: These kids are angsty.
Damian Edwards plays bongos and crash cymbal, and he plays them with drumsticks that end in wooden balls maybe an inch across. This gives his playing more attack (technically and figuratively), and is reflected in the way the band in general approaches music: Let nothing come to you -- strike first.
The Big Pink had some technical issues. That's understandable in that Milo Cordell is operating a space station more than a keyboard, but still: the group has got a touring sound guy, and why bother with that if everyone's going to stand around shrugging and silently twisting knobs for an hour?
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When the set finally started, it was the sort of complete overload you kind of become numb to after a few minutes. The band filled the room with smoke and set up strobes constantly beaming backlighting and cranked away for an hour. The effect was disorienting, so murky and unstable that your eyes give up on trying to pick out anything on the face of the outfit's two leaders.
Musically, The Big Pink have a shoegaze wall of sound and danceable beats, a combination which gets you enormous music as a matter of course. Perhaps half of the songs are therefore fireworks. But when the band plays its slower, quieter (read: not as many people playing), that's when it gets pretty uninspiring, to the point that you'll swear you've heard every piece of this song used by five other bands that you know of.
And then there's "Dominoes," the band's biggest hit to date and its last song of the set. They know why people came. The room was losing steam by then, losing stragglers to the bar and, thanks to a string of hum and wail tracks, the attention of everyone left. Then that opening synth line comes in with that perfect drum beat and suddenly people are literally high-fiving each other because it's so exciting. Then Robbie Furze gets to one of his best in a series of one line mantras and the crowd is right there with him: "These girls fall like dominos." Here, on the best song of the night, there is absolutely nothing to get that doesn't immediately hit you. I don't ever want to know more.
CRITIC'S NOTEBOOK Personal Bias:I like to have to dig through noise and feedback and mayhem to find gems. With both of these bands, there's no digging and often no gems. Random Detail: Let's face it: boobs do well on the internet. In an age when you need to catch people's eye on the internet, it seems almost too obvious to put boobs on your album cover. How much of The Big Pink's success has to do with their titillating (sorry - artistic) covers I don't know. But I bet it's some. By The Way: Crystal Antlers are driving around in a beat down van. The Big Pink have a charter bus. Do with that as you will.