Review – Crystal Castles, HEALTH, Thrust Lab @ the Ottobar

I walked into a fairly impressively packed Sunday night at the Ottobar. The last time I saw it this packed was for cult-legend Daniel Johnston a few weeks back. But the crowd was an altogether different variety. The sea of X’s made me a little wary of the band taking forever to sound-check on stage. Spring break was over, and it looks like this was the show that you had to be at to be in the know for homeroom tomorrow.
Photo of HEALTH, right|Flickr user HateMyWay

Missing the first openers Diagonal Buildings, Thrust Lab were hemming and hawing over the mics and such as I entered the room. I thought to myself: “Man these guys are picky. And they only get 30 minutes. This better be spectacular.” Unfortunately, no length of sound-check can make up for the derivative feel of their set. Largely, I blame the lead singer. His antics and personality grated on me. And based off those things and the prominence of his vocals in the mix, I felt like I was watching an extended session of Morrissey/Smiths karaoke. The bassist was largely uninteresting both musically and in terms of stage presence. I gathered that the drummer had some chops, but was being restricted by the songs. There’s potential there, but they need to focus away from the dance-party fodder they create based on weak stage presence and songs that sound almost exactly alike. For example, when given a good template they can create a fabulous dance remix (HEALTH’s unreleased track “The Problem Is”).

Crystal Castles – “The Problem Is” (Thrust Lab Remix)

Noise-rockers HEALTH have received a healthy amount of praise in recent weeks. I could easily see why. These kids employ instrumental abuse to wring out some really engaging experimental noise. The first “Wow” moment for me was midway through the first song when everyone except the drummer ditched their instruments and proceeded to recreate a heavy metal song with their voices. The growls and squeals from the lightning fast guitars create an ominous and tension-filled racket, at times recalling Dillinger Escape Plan. Combining with tribal freak-out drums and desperate primitive vocals formed from guttural chants, growls and screams, the effect was transportive. At times, I felt like I was in the filled-to-capacity cabin of a depressurized airplane with blown-out ear drums falling through a thunderhead. And really, what more can you ask of a psyched-out noise band?

The room darkened to pitch-black in preparation for Crystal Castles. The band came on-stage swiftly, still shrouded in darkness. They launched into their first song and the strobes and lighting set up behind the band began punctuating the beats of the music. Everything entered into a state of stop-motion flicker that somehow managed to perfectly accent the performance while not becoming obtrusive or annoying for the audience. Photo of Alice Glass, above | Flickr user Robbie Fearless

Since the Justice show at Sonar is proximal in my mind’s eye, I was measuring this entire show by that metric. And in many ways it was superior.

The crowd was absolutely fanatical; they were on a mission to dance, versus the Justice show which had more of a concert vibe to it. Both were packed with a large number of X-handed under-21ers. But this crowd had a distinctly more uninhibited and unhinged feel than the one at Justice, less trying to be Euro-disco and more just being Baltimore. When all cylinders were firing, Crystal Castles put on a performance often on par with that of the Faint. Though most of their songs are almost stubbornly 4/4 accented, it never wore thin. The delivery and packaging was simply irresistible…from front-woman Alice Glass’ captivating performance on vocals to the minimal and excellent lighting effects and their trademark 8-bit inspired blip-melodies and accents, the product was delightful, EDM-inspired dance-party confection. Photo of Alice Glass, above | Flickr user HateMyWay

And a part of me almost wished that I could join the other half of the crowd in homeroom or lecture on Monday when they talk til blue in the face about how crazy the freak-dancing got.

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