Originally published on March 7, 2011
March 4th at the Warfield Theatre, San Francisco
The audience at the Warfield on Friday night was subjected to a sensory assault of eardrum-crushing electronic noise-rock fused with a seizure-inducing light show. This intense audio experience was brought to the Bay Area by the Toronto based two-musician team known as Crystal Castles. Singer Alice Glass and producer Ethan Kath turned the entire venue into a chaotic dance party, and the sold-out audience was locked under their spell of glitchy space beats for the entirety of the night, with eyes glued to the stage and bodies impulsively dancing.
The set started off with a bang. Alice Glass is known for a pretty insane stage presence, and this show was no exception. She clutched the mic stand and stepped onto monitors, all the while her body convulsing. Her high level of physicality is especially impressive lately, as it had been announced before they took the stage that she was performing with a broken ankle she suffered in late January during a show in Tokyo—this girl is serious about not holding back! As someone who has personally had a broken ankle, I cannot imagine going on an international tour with my noise band, let alone thrashing around on stage for hours each night. Glass is obviously way cooler than me, and made crutches look like they should be a new trend. She leaned over them for support as she screamed into the mic, and with flashing strobes illuminating her figure, she made them seem like an accessory that no punk singer should be without.
I was excited to find that Crystal Castles’ songs sound much better live than they do on album. The low end of their crisp and haunting tracks was amplified with the addition of a live drummer, and the notes sounded huge and boomed through the speakers. I was skeptical about whether Glass’ highly processed vocals would sound good in a live setting, but they came out remarkably well. Her raw vocals on songs without any sound manipulations were even better—she definitely has a voice that is built to scream. I know that this band uses a lot of studio magic and effects with the production of their tracks, but their sound translated amazingly well to a live setting. And when gazing out over the audience, all I could see was an ocean of stop-motion animated hands, as flashing lights from pillars set up on the stage illuminated everyone’s enthusiastic dancing and thrashing. I guess I have been seeing too many mellower indie bands lately that don’t command such a violent reaction from the audience, so it was great to be in a setting with an entire crowd of people that were really excited to be there, and expressing it physically.
Crystal Castles played many tracks off of their two self-titled albums (the first one was released in 2008, and the second one came out in April 2010). “Reckless”, “Empathy”, and “Magic Spells” drew the biggest response from the audience. The band played a nice blend of their dreamy and steady songs that often remind me of music that was composed by ghosts, but they also made sure that their more spastic electro-punk hyper-driven tracks were also in the set. The band came back out on stage for a three-song encore, playing “Crimewave”, “Courtship Dating”, and “Untrust Us”, which is probably their most well known song.
Their performance concluded with a huge lights display of non-stop flashing colors as the last notes rang out to a rowdy, cheering audience. The show left me with a very happy feeling, as it was definitely the most engaging and exciting live music I have seen in many months. If the band is coming to your city anytime soon, grab some tickets fast, because this is an act not to be missed.
Listen: “Untrust Us” [at youtube.com]