A late, late loony time
My night with Crystal Castles: Willy Wonka hell visions, crowd surfing & Eggs
Remember when the candy boat enters the tunnel in the original Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory? With wild eyes, Wonka sings, “Not a speck of light is showing/ So the danger must be growing” and a montage of demonic images shake the walls.
A similar jarring chaos propelled the Crystal Castles show at House of Blues this week. Packed in a pulsing crowd, I wasn’t sure if I was terrified, exhilarated or on the brink of seizure.
Lasers assaulted the crowd in searing neon flashes (imagine getting repeatedly pummeled in the face with a glow stick) as a strobe light cut through the smoke, illuminating producer/songwriter Ethan Kath’s hooded silhouette.
Frontwoman Alice Glass’ pitch-shifting vocals surpassed noise-punk irreverence for a positively feral sound. In “Doe Deer,” a barely intelligible Glass screamed “Death ray! Death ray!” and dove into the audience, her first of two such crowd surfs of the night. Part angry drunk and part nervous breakdown, her shrieks rivaled those of Fever Ray.
Initially I had mixed feelings about Crystal Castles. My 8-bit friends had shunned them for imitating chiptune without actually circuit-bending themselves. They weren’t the real thing — they just sounded sort of like it. (In hipsterdom that’s about as cool as riding a fixed gear bike with a free-wheel and handbrake, translation: why do you even exist.)
However, with the successful debut of self-titled 2008 album Crystal Castles and the subsequent smoothing-over of copyright infringement, my opinion eased up and the band even earned a song on my motivational jogging playlist entitled “If You Can’t Run to This Then You’re Just Fat.” It sounded like what would play in Hell, you know, if Hell had an electronic experimental dance club (which I’m 90 percent sure it does, and I think it’s on Washington Ave).
Performing songs with titles like "Suffocation," "Fainting Spells" and "Violent Dreams" I theorized that the band named their tracks after fans’ reactions. I suggest the next album include one called "Sweating in Skinny Jeans."
Though the performance of the Canadian duo (with the addition of a drummer) proved nothing short of a battering of the senses, fans had one complaint: The band came on too late. A fellow press member lamented, “I’m going to hate myself tomorrow morning,” as she ordered another drink at 11 p.m. and stared glassy-eyed at the empty stage.
An announcement of “doors open at 8” generally means headliners begin by 10. However, I didn’t mind the delay as I almost missed the show. Unfamiliar with the workings of media passes, my friend and I waited in a long line with the plebs, offering our names at the ticket booth. An annoyed attendant checked twice, “You’re with culture-who? Yes, I’m very sure you’re not on the list.”
In a moment of sheer terror I feared there’d been a mix-up and I wasn’t supposed to be there after all. This would have been catastrophic as strictly-enforced fire codes mean you can’t cry your way into a sold-out show, which I might have done one or two (or three) times.
A few panicked phone calls and half an hour later, I learned that press must enter through the Foundation Room. There a woman waved us in and pointed to a secret elevator. Or at least I’m fairly sure it was secret. (OK, it was actually just the Foundation Room bar elevator, but it felt very secret.) Press passes also meant we watched the show from the balcony seats. However, to my surprise and dismay, the press was largely a boring lot, save gregarious music writer, “Eggs”. (He followed me on Twitter today, meaning we're only one step away from being Facebook friends and two steps away from being friends in real life!)
I left the balcony for the pit for the show's final songs. Despite previous complaints of the band’s tardiness, frantic cheers demanded double encore
s. At once primal and unearthly, Crystal Castles played like a rabid space ferret frothing neon at the mouth.