Crystal Castles at First Avenue, 11/1/12

Categories: Last Night
Photos by Anna Gulbrandsen
Crystal Castles
With Kontravoid and Naughty Wood
First Avenue, Minneapolis
Thursday, November 1, 2012

As the silver screen raised to reveal a stage set that looked more than a little like Tech Noir, the dance club in The Terminator, the bass from Ethan Kath's stacks of equipment started pulsing powerfully enough to literally blur the vision of the people standing close to First Avenue's new sound system on Thursday night. Crystal Castles' set was just under way but already there was a feeling that this was going to be like nothing the crowd had seen -- or heard -- anywhere before. It was like getting hit in the face with a cattle prod, and only got better from there.

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Slideshow: Crystal Castles at First Avenue, 11/1/12
Crystal Castles at First Avenue, 3/11/11

The ominous, propulsive thumping already had the floor in front of the stage whipped into a frenzy and the rest of gurgling, damaged noise built up to become "Plague" from their not-yet-released (it drops on November 16) and again-self-titled album, already being referred to as Crystal Castles III to distinguish it. The propulsive, unrelenting bass thud continued with "Baptism" from 2010's Crystal Castles II, with lead singer Alice Glass, her hair dyed Ramona Flowers blue, climbing into and atop the crowd for a good portion of the song -- it wouldn't be her only trip out there.

"Suffocation," which, with its almost club-worthy beat (read: slightly less corrosive than much of their work), followed and coupled with the flashing strobes, smoke and Glass's high-pitched scream/wail of a voice, the Mainroom started to take on an other-worldly quality -- or at least resemble a world where sometimes armed-to-the-teeth cyborgs open fire on large crowds without consequence.

Photos by Anna Gulbrandsen

The songs from their new album showed Crystal Castles have taken a few steps forward in the past couple of years, even if those steps are in the past, in a way. "Wrath of God" and "Telepath" were still steeped in the beyond-glitchy, warped walls of noise for which the band is known, but the noise was a bit more 16-bit than 8-bit -- the only logical next step, really. The bass proved to be a bit much at times, Glass's vocals getting lost in the mix more often than not, but all was likely forgiven when at one point Kath slowly manipulated the feedback until it sounded like a helicopter was present onstage somewhere amid the smoke and pulsating, ever-oscillating lights, like a version of Miss Saigon staged at the gates of Hell. They ended the set with the nearly-melodic "Celestica" and spidery "Not In Love," which is possibly the best video game music not actually written for that purpose.

The hour-long set finally came to a close with a three-song encore that included an excellent version of "Intimate" and "Courtship Dating," which found Glass out atop the audience again, this time taking pulls from a now nearly-empty bottle of Jack Daniel's (it had been almost full at the beginning of the show) and spitting oversized mouthfuls over the willing crowd, which was now a sweaty, smelly, smiling ear-to-ear mess. There is beauty in filth, corrosion and feedback; Ethan Kath and Alice Glass almost effortlessly proved that on Thursday and seem to have a need to continue proving it for quite some time to come--which is a beautiful thing in itself.

Photos by Anna Gulbrandsen

Critic's Bias: Crystal Castles are one of my favorite bands from the last few years and their set early last year proved to nothing short of mind-boggling, with Glass sporting a broken ankle and still managing to crowd surf and the like. I was just as impressed this time and can't wait to see them again.

The Crowd: Young and largely female, which, given the band's overall aesthetic, was sort of surprising.

Overheard in the Crowd: "Alice Glass spat on me, it was so cool!"

Notebook Dump: At times this thumping bass/light show combo seem to almost slow time down.

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