Due to some ticket switching / organisational issues (Ok, we thought they’d be on way earlier) we manage to miss support bands Team Ghost and Health. I was particularly looking forward to seeing how mental Health would be live (I had their crazy Pitchfork TV ‘Don’t Look Down’ set as an idea of what to expect) but I’ll have to catch them another time.
Crystal Castles appear onstage wreathed in smoke so thick you can barely see the tiny frame of Alice Glass, but as they break into their first song, she emerges from the smoke wearing an oversize hoodie and clutching a bottle of vodka. New single ‘Baptism’ is played second, with Alice seeming to feed off the ecstatic reaction from the audience, and from here on in, she’s as hyperactive as we’ve come to expect.
Producer Ethan Kath remains an intriguing opposite to Glass onstage, hunched over his electronics, hood up, beard obscuring face. He occasionally steps out from behind his equipment to play guitar or provide vocals on some tracks, but he largely remains tied to his synths and drum machines. Their live session drummer obviously stays behind his kit too, but Alice more than makes up for it, catapulting herself from one end of the stage to the other, leaping into the audience, crowd-surfing and hopping up onto the bass drum and bashing crash cymbals all while screaming her lungs out and swigging from various bottles.
Musically, the band are absolutely spot on, so tight that we could well be listening to the record, were it not that the beats, synths and Alice’s vocals sounding even harsher and abrasive live. The sound at The Roundhouse is excellent (quite an achievement when you consider the height of the ceilings) and the mix is punishingly loud, the kick drum and bass hits bludgeoning the audience with a ferocity only matched by Glass’ delivery.
Equally worthy of merit is the excellent light show, strobing and pulsating along to the music, starting with just white flashes but progressing to other colours as the set continues before returning to black & white. The white flashing lights conjured up images of grainy nuclear-bomb test videos, an association I’m sure the band would be pleased with.
Crystal Castles have managed to maintain a certain air of mystery and aloofness around themselves, an approach that suits the obliqueness of their music, creating an air of ‘pure performance’ about their live show. The impression is that of a band only there to play their songs then leave, to entertain but not interact, existing in their own nihilistic headspace. It’s only right at the end of the show that any of them address the audience, with Glass garbling ‘Thank-you London’ through her distorted microphone before she and Kath skulk off stage to a deafening cacophony of electronic feedback. The screeching echoes out across the venue, drawing comparisons to My Bloody Valentine’s (and more recently Yuck’s) end-show habits of propping their instruments up against their amplifiers and letting the feedback ring out. Pure performance, and an incredible one at that.