Review: Crystal Castles At First Avenue
“Ladies and gentleman. Alice Glass has broken her ankle. The doctors have advised her to cancel the show and the rest of the tour.” This announcement spoken over the self-proclaimed danceteria’s PA system prompts two girls in full-fledged zombie makeup standing in front of me – fake stitches painted over their mouths and alcohol in hand – to pout at each other in disbelief. The sold-out First Avenue collectively emits a (skeptical) groan. Then: “But Alice says to the doctors – fuck you!” and with that the crowd allows themselves to cheer and while hands reach for the air the stage screen lifts to reveal thick and concealing fog and the silhouettes of Crystal Castles bathed in the flash of strobes: Ethan Kath (28) and singer Alice Glass (22). Indeed, the lifting fog reveals Glass holding a single crutch while wearing an ankle cast and propping her foot against a stage monitor, an occurrence that will become frequent throughout the night. The strobe-heavy (which is an understatement) lighting structure is unrelenting during the entire set and often leaves the two in total darkness. While heart-resonating thumps vibrate everyone’s chest during the opening performance of “Fainting Spells,” Kath’s hooded figure often vanishes entirely behind the keyboard and sampler in front of him. Glass is a persistent crowd surfer and during the impassioned, screaming vocals during the song “Baptism” that follows I wonder how she will deal with her injury when she inevitably attempts to jump into the crowd. (Later I’m amused to find out it is gingerly and with help from stage security and fans in front and I can’t help but feel appreciative of this effort.) Before she does this, and amidst the pulsing and frantic colors that flush the stage, Glass lets everyone know what she thinks (the entire show, including encore, contains no stage banter) by passionately dropping her crutch and recklessly hopping in place. This is a danceteria – broken ankle be damned!
While the crowd remains energetic and engaged throughout the course of the show, the first half is more subdued than I figure it usually would be – a reflection of Glass’s condition – and the early singles Kath orchestrates that I felt excited to hear and expected would be the biggest crowd pleasers are received with a surprising evenness from the crowd, particularly with “Courtship Dating” and “Crimewave” (granted “Crimewave” is far more droning and less thrash), with the former played so early on that it’s function seemed to be to build energy for the rest of the set more than anything else. The songs are performed without a hitch – impressively so – and I am entertained by how musically cohesive the pair carry themselves and how unaffected Glass is by her physical limitation in this regard. She seems to be doing her best and I’m glad when the crowd responds positively to her flailing between Captain Morgan stances on the stage monitor. The lighting and specifically the darkness increase the focus on their music as the center of the show (a personal preference when I see live bands) but a physically unrestrained Glass would have made for a more memorable night overall.
With the opening bloops that signaled the song “Alice Practice” near the middle of the set, the crowd’s energy finally became a noticeable force in the building and this song was a clear turning point in terms of excitement and static in the room. From here out the show remained blistering and entertaining with songs featuring heavy emphasis on natural percussion and discernable drum kits that sounded altogether unlike their studio album counterparts. There’s a relatively fascinating vocal moment in the performance of “Air War,” a track whose album version contains a sample of Luciano Berio and Cathy Berberian’s “Thema (Omaggio a Joyce)” and not of Glass’s own voice, with her live vocal interpretation filtered heavily through myriad effects to where it devolves into a striking series of industrial sounds that you’d imagine would come out of her if she was constructing an automobile on an assembly line by simply shouting words at the necessary machinery. The sounds are sharp, high pitched, inhuman, and yet clearly controlled by a pint-sized human mouth yelling into a microphone. This is contrasted by “Celestica” where Glass’s voice is allowed to become lilting and sing-song for the first time, and she does a good job of removing any skepticism from the other songs that she can pull off more typical singing. It is here that the show is cemented as worthwhile.
The final song played before the encore, “Not in Love,” is another vocal highlight for Glass and also the musical highlight of the night. When the expected encore cheering begins after this song ends there is enough energy left over that forced cheering is unnecessary, and as the encore starts after very little break the crowd’s enthusiasm has not wavered. After finishing “Untrust Us,” the third song in the encore, the night comes to a close when Glass purposefully collapses onto the stage despite the ankle, and is obscured by flashing lights and fog. I just have to clap, as does everyone else.
— Andrew Lungstrom
Crystal Castles: Site