Crystal Castles @ Roundhouse
Camden Roundhouse. 15oct10.
If some of the heat created by HEALTH’s tribal, brutal yet oddly ethereal sound and turbulent performance style has dissipated by the time Crystal Castles hit the stage half an hour later, it returns double quick with an en masse surge forward and a swell of bodies eager to wax hectic. It was a bit like this the first time I witnessed the group, at this past July’s Latitude Festival where the bright young things down the front revelled in their frankly mischievous main stage billing between the far more sedate charms of The Maccabees and Belle & Sebastian.
To borrow the phrase John Peel once used to the describe the atmosphere at an early Fall gig (and which often still applies), that Latitude set ‘crackled with malevolence’. Partly this was in terms of the pubescent members of the audience getting a little rowdy and letting off some steam. One young fella was seen walking out of the main throng clutching the remaining half of his glasses to his left eye like a makeshift monocle to find his way out. It was like the watching an indie-fest version of Saving Private Ryan’s opening salvo.
In addition to this, I was hit in the face during that set, not by an empty pint glass or a misplaced shoe, as one might reasonably expect, but by a clear pencil case containing a ruler and Pritt Stick amongst other things. Clearly this was the kids throwing off the trappings of youth; those trappings apparently being metaphored by WH Smith’s ‘Back to School’ stationery promotion. We won’t even get into the fighting that went on. Especially as it was vocalist Alice Glass who was responsible for the punches thrown.
That festival appearance gave them something to confront though, if nothing else then an army of pushchair wielding parents retreating to the back of the arena to boo in relative comfort, and Crystal Castles clearly revel in that situation. Tonight, though, they are most certainly on home turf, with no immediate ‘pricks’ to kick against, so we’re left with Alice’s flouting of the smoking ban as a symbol of defiance.
If anything this desire to be seen as ‘propa nawty’ is the one grating aspect about them, their being too much of an appeal to the vain rebellion of their teenage demographic. The bottle of whisky she staggered around with at Latitude still having a large supermarket security tag on it would be a further example.
Yet there is no denying the energy that comes from Ethan Khan’s barbed electronics, and certainly Christopher Chartrand’s drumming helps to flesh it out beyond the machines for the live presentation. Alice herself stalks the stage like a Spectator cartoonist’s approximation of a heroin enthusiast; not so much ‘death warmed up’ as ‘death repeatedly dipped into a toaster that’s not plugged into the wall’.
Alice’s presence within Crystal Castles as a live act is much more as rabble-rouser than as vocalist which is perhaps just as well as, if we’re honest, she’s not much of a singer really, apart from perhaps on ‘Celestica’, what one might term their concession to balladry. Mind you, barreling about screaming is just the ticket on pieces such as ‘Alice Practice’ and the startling, brilliant ‘Baptism’.
Alice repeatedly leaves the stage to be amongst her people, striding at points across a sea of hands and shoulders, distributing Jack Daniels straight from the bottle to eager, thirsty mouths, like a kind of boozy Jesus.
There is no denying that Crystal Castles know their audience. Equally their audience knows this band has more than enough fuel in the tank for evenings in their company to explode.
ADDENDUM: This article was published also on the Art of Noise and recieved the following comment. Which I think is a fair criticism of my one criticism. Sadly the comment was anonymous so I can’t credit it.
“Truth is Alice probably didn’t know about the smoking ban or the security tag on the whiskey. She just wants to smoke and drink, why must you complicate simple common desires? LOL.”