Noise Pop 2013: The Crystal Ark at the Mezzanine

“Dude, a satchel? That’s the gayest shit I’ve ever seen.”
“What?” I asked.
“Your purse,” he said, pointing to my camera bag, as his apparent girlfriend giggled and tried to cover his mouth. “That’s so fucking gay. Are you from America?”
“Thank you,” I said, as I finished putting in my ear plugs, mostly disinterested but half curious what he made of the two guys making out 10 feet across the dance floor.

Given that the last time I was in this situation, at Mezzanine to see NYC’s disco band the Crystal Ark supported by “San Francisco’s coveted queer DJ collective” Honey Soundsystem, was during Pride weekend, this was an odd encounter. But I’d already expected the crowd to be a little off, given that it was seemingly a late addition to the Noise Pop Festival and had to compete with packed, sold-out events in the vicinity.

Maybe the couple came out for the free Toro y Moi/Washed Out club night/email farm going on over at 1015 Folsom, and got turned off by the massive line. Maybe they were just visiting from out of town, and Mezzanine was close to their hotel. In any case, a short time into the band’s set, I couldn’t see them around, and presumed they left early.

Whatever. The Crystal Ark would be pretty central in a Venn diagram of my musical tastes. Gavin Russom is easily the fifth most significant member of now-defunct LCD Soundsystem, which doesn’t mean much except for obsessives (guilty.) With The Crystal Ark, he combines his synth expertise with Latin percussion and a trio of female singers in a way that recalls both ESG and Fania All-Stars. Plus, an additional utopian/spacey theme that suckers me.

Still, to be honest, the first time I saw the band I was a little disappointed. Mainly because it seemed to take at least a half an hour before it livened up and built into the kind of fluid groove you want from a group like that. Friday, the Crystal Ark seemed much improved. Coming to the stage with the slight awkwardness that comes with being the headlining band with no real opener, Russom proceeded with introductions, saying that they were glad to be back at Mezzanine, noting that “This is a wild city. I’ve only been two blocks, but I’ve seen a lot of wild shit.” (Presumably arriving via Sixth Street rather than Mint Plaza.)

But a few minutes into their new single “Rain,” the band seemed ready to go, with the chorus “C’mon, and show me what’s the best you got,” being an obvious challenge to the small crowd.

This time around the band was also smaller, consisting of Russom, a single percussionist and a group of singers-dancers led by Viva Ruiz. But the performance and connection to the audience was improved.

Throughout the night Ruiz would alternate between English and Spanish, at one point dedicating what I’d failed to realized was a pro-immigration song, “We Came To (Work)” to her father and “We the fucking people.”

Despite the smaller size, the sound was bigger and more synchronized. After finishing with the appropriate “Ascension” and the refrain “the time has come,” it was a little disappointing seeing the club shut down – opposed to last time where the Pride crowd and Honey Soundsystem kept things going – and Russom was packing up his gear. When I complimented him on the show, he attributed it to having released their album and having more time to focus on performing. Now they just have to find the right crowd.