We Love Music: Crystal Castles @ 9:30 Club, 3/15/11

All images courtesy of Crystal Castles

Crystal Castles is a band I haven’t quite wrapped my head around yet. They’re a duet that plays slightly off-kilter, dark, noisy electronic music. It’s a pretty strange mix of Vegas slot-machine ambience, Gameboy bleeps and bloops, and ghostly vocals. Why do people like this? Maybe because it’s so weird. Or because you can dance to it. But like Apple Jacks, I just like it, and I can’t explain why. Clearly I’m not the only one who feels this way – they sold out the 9:30 Club on Wednesday, just like the last time they came through DC in August.

Crystal Castles put on an impressive live show that perfectly complements their music. Not only did they pick a great setlist, but the entire visual aspect of the show perfectly complemented their songs. Bright LED displays surrounded by darkness added a new layer of mystery to their music. And, oh man, their singer Alice Glass knows how to get a crowd going. We danced, jumped, and clawed our way forward throughout the set.

Even before Crystal Castles performed, the stage setup created an ominous feeling in the club. They had a couple industrial-styled pillars of LEDs scattered around the stage, against a huge backdrop of the face of the girl from their album cover. Opener Teengirl Fantasy did well as a warm-up band – they took a few songs to get rolling, but their electronic dance music got people moving. At first, only a couple folks (ravers, if you will) wearing glowsticks who even noticed the music, but once they brought the bass, people started paying attention and jumping around. A few of their better tracks reminded me of Underworld, although they definitely had their own unique style that’s a little more bass-oriented.

Crystal Castles took the stage in total darkness. For the first three songs, the only lighting in the club came from the strobe lights on stage. It was simultaneously frustrating and awesome that I could barely make out the figures of Ethan Kath and Alice Glass. Their fourth track “Alice Practice” was the first time we got any ambient lighting, and could actually see what was going on.

Alice Glass: WOW. She was a completely hypnotic performer, constantly moving and dancing, shrieking along to the music. When I could finally see her clearly, her dark eye makeup made her look kind of crazy, maybe evil? I’m pretty sure she never cracked a smile all night. I didn’t really understand her outfit – a ripped shirt reading “MALE BONDING” loosely covering her sports bra – but whatever; she’s hot stuff. During a few songs, she climbed onto some lucky guy’s shoulders in the audience, which turned the crowd into something like a mosh pit of folks trying to get closer to her.

Oh, and right before the set started, we heard an announcement about how she had broken her ankle at a show in Madrid; her doctor said to quit performing for awhile, and she said “fuck you.” Yeah, fuck doctors! Not that this impaired her performance at all – she was hopping around the entire show.

I found the whole show to be completely hypnotic, between the constant assault of LEDs and Alice’s stage presence. Their set was all killer, no filler – they ran through a ton of the songs I love from both of their (self-titled) albums. From their 2008 album, they hit tracks like “Crimewave,” “Magic Spells,” and “Reckless.” “Air War” sounded huge on 9:30’s amazing sound system – the staccatto blips gave way to the waves of slot-machine-inspired, inhumanly quick chirps in the midsection of the song. Their 2010 album was much darker overall, but of course everyone still got down to “Fainting Spells,” the heavy bass of “Baptism,” and the overdriven blasts of “Doe Deer.” Every time a new beat dropped, it set off a new round of jumping, dancing, crowd-surfing, arm-waving bliss.

Their encore matched the beginning of their set – a few songs with few vocals, plus nothing but strobe lights blasting. This would’ve been a fine ending, and I thought the show was over, but the band came out for one last track – a downtuned, extended version of “Untrust Us,” which was absolutely epic. It must’ve been the loudest track of the night, swelling to a wall of noise with their drummer pounding away, desperately trying to be heard over the static. This was the first Crystal Castles song I ever heard, so to me, it was the perfect way to end the night.

Martin Silbiger

Martin moved from Atlanta to DC in 2007. He works as a software developer for Soundexchange, a non-profit royalty administration organization. A self-proclaimed metal snob, Martin loves bands that push into unexplored territory. He also writes about pop culture here.

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