Arriving early to the Crystal Castles show Monday at the Fox Theater, discovering that one opener, HEALTH, had canceled its performance, and that the photo pit would be off limits for the other, Kontravoid, I was left with some unexpected time on my hands. Time that I spent trying to recall where I had seen the eerily familiar image hung over the stage, of a veiled figure cradling a fragile, vulnerable looking man in their arms.
Presented without context, it could be potentially tenderly romantic or gothically morbid, an ambiguity which seemed to typically invite the sort of let-me-Google-that mystery that recent bands have found so chic.*
But all that gets into a realm of meaning that is largely irrelevant here, because that’s not really what was on display at the Fox last night. Ask someone about a Crystal Castles show and they will mostly recount the spectacle. A woman walked out into the crowd supported by the hands of her fans, in a messianic rock move, or alternately crowd surfed in their arms.
All the while, she was performing with a near epileptic frenzy, mouth agape, spitting words that were largely drowned out by the barrage of beats produced onstage by her partner and a tour drummer. If singer Alice Glass were ever actually sent into a fit by the painful amount of strobes accompanying the show**, it is likely that her cries would go unnoticed.
The tradeoff with such pounding intensity is that there isn’t a whole lot of variety. The music drives and drives, largely due to the production of Ethan Kath, but rarely opens up (“Not in Love” a track featuring clear vocals from the Cure’s Robert Smith remains the exception in this regard) as Glass’s primary mode is a wrenching scream. New tracks, including one instrumental that had both of the main members at the controls, only seem to further the band’s hard, caustic edge.
I imagine that there are few casual Crystal Castles fans, and only two extreme ways to appreciate them: either in a drunken fury or with a finger twitching, phone tapping obsessiveness***. When I went home I immediately opened my laptop, to find that picture, and to look up the new songs.
* And perhaps Crystal Castles more than any other. It is after all – as anyone with a search engine could tell you – a band that emerged so rapidly from the internet underground that even the singer was late to find out about it.
** “Shoot between the beats,” the band’s handler told the photographers as he lead us to the side of the stage. “Otherwise you won’t get anything.” Quite helpful advice, really. He could be seen later in the show at the front of the pit, pulling Alice off of the audience, and he promised to give us a heads up if the singer was about to throw a mic stand in out general direction.
*** Remember watching Lost and then immediately going online to talk about the smoke monster or the map in the hatch? This is the musical equivalent of that.