Crystal Castles – Live at Academy 2, Manchester. 22/10/2010

Review by Chris Gilliver

Waking up the next morning, all I can hear is a constant ringing in my left year, which reminds me of an article I read recently about a man committing suicide because of chronic tinnitus. Everything peripheral sounds like the dull roar of the sea, and I am pretty certain that when I breathe in I can smell blood. Will my hearing ever be the same again? Who knows? But this is probably what I deserve for standing too near the left hand speaker stack at a Crystal Castle show.

And where you stand is essential to the sort of enjoyment you’re going to get at a gig like this. For instance, if I stood at the back or towards the middle, perhaps now I wouldn’t feel that I’d spent the night cowering beneath a table during The Blitz. I might have had a more cerebral experience, but should this obliterating dance, computer game, indie fusion be a chin-stroking, thought-inducing encounter? No, if you want the real deal, dance, mosh and feel the rapture with the slack-jawed, pilled-up kids at the front who gaze up at Alice and Ethan like they’re witnessing the second coming of Jesus.

Alice Glass is the face of the duo. Pretty, young, and possibly insane, she thrashes around in the strobe lighting like Regan MacNeal in The Exorcist. The lyrics, if there are any, lie deeply buried beneath waves of fx, adding depth to the act’s mystique. The sight of her crawling over the outstretched hands of her adoring fans is one of the most iconic things I’ve ever seen.

It’s hard to say how much she adds musically. It would be too easy to say that she’s only in Crystal Castles because she’s wild, magnetic and doesn’t give a fuck, but I think her chameleonic singing style has real depth. Compare the melody she injects into ‘Black Panther’, possibly tonight’s finest moment, with her cracked shouting on ‘Alice Practice’ and her shrieking on ‘Baptism’s’ trance-y chorus. Alice has practiced and flourished into one of the most versatile vocalists in contemporary music.

But let’s not get carried away, Ethan Kath, hiding underneath his hoodie, is the brains of the outfit – the name “Kath” derives from Catheter, the most uncomfortable thing Glass could think of. The Prodigy are played over the Tannoy before Crystal Castles come onstage, and I wonder briefly whether they see themselves as their natural successors. If they do, that belief is misplaced. Where the Prodigy looked to subvert rhythm and melody as much as possible, these things are the twin cornerstones of Kath’s sound. He alternates, simple, heavy dance beats with waves of distortion and stunning melody – which is why he is such a brilliant songwriter. There’s an easy accessibility to even his most fucked up segments of white noise, and they break into the sweetest ear candy imaginable. The first time I saw them a few years ago, Kath seemed somewhat unaware of the audience while he blasted out minutes of white noise. This time his performance is far more focused on playing the hits, and giving us the music we want to hear – the notable addition of a drummer adding clarity and structure to their live sound.

So much so, that for the first time in a long time I’m truly thankful that a band returns for the encore – even if they do play their hit ‘Intimate’ which is probably their most boringly, formulaic track.

This night has destroyed my eardrums, but they will heal. What will not go is the joyful memory of another excellent night spent losing myself to Crystal Castles. The bells, the bells!


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