Short but Spastic, Crystal Castles Play Memorable Set

Photo: LIFT UP YOUR HANDS. Jazzed by Crystal Castles' video game-inspired performance, the audience at the Independent reaches out to Ethan Kath.
Aditya Rohilla/Photo
LIFT UP YOUR HANDS. Jazzed by Crystal Castles' video game-inspired performance, the audience at the Independent reaches out to Ethan Kath.

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Nostalgia's a bitch. A raving, polka-dotted, miniskirt-tearing, bowlcut-donning bitch from Toronto who knows how to party with Super Mario and Tetris better than any of us ever will. Alice Glass-one half of Toronto-based electronic duo Crystal Castles-is that long lost little sister of Karen O., minus the voice but plus chiptune maestro Ethan Kath and an even angrier, sweatier fervor. She and Kath take all that we held dear in our distant Nintendo-inspired upbringing and turn it into intensely infectious dance music: the glistening incarnate clusterfuck of a Ritalin generation's inner child.

Kath's electric current-button-smashing eight-bit glitch blasts strung over a procession of haunting "Game Over" sequences-flowed jagged through her convulsions, violently defibrillating an otherwise lifeless Tuesday night at San Francisco's Independent.

Such is the volatility that unites the split personalities of Crystal Castles. He with his hunched-over focus as impenetrable as his leather jacket hoodie (seriously, does that thing ever come off?); she with her unabashed tantrum of a stage presence. Their bit-blowing, cartridge-crunching new rave took the Alamo Square for a spin as Miss Glass lifted a flashing strobe cannon triumphantly over her head: her virtual weapon of choice to capture the sold-out audience's energy for the night.

Responding to her command, a field of hands held high flashed in and out of the explosive beats of their "Baptism," all moving forward eagerly in their effort to contact the trembling force above them. Her movements proceeded with the lyrics as a three-dimensional flipbook: at times a fairy tale doused in shadows of a brooding future ("Eyes lit / I pawn short breaths / A fawn's dark eye lids"), at others an enraged specter of simpler cares burning at high heat ("Oh jolly to jolly, lay your face / We are all right, the human race").

Along with Ethan's instrumentals on highly modified keyboards and guitars, the duo had a live drummer accompanying their missions to blitz eardrums. The tour de frenzy "Alice Practice" with its exploding digital bubbles sent the audience into a jumping cascade alongside the slightly more discreet "Crimewave." Drumsticks, body parts, bottled water and sweat droplets punctuated the multicolored light streams emitted from backslash-stenciled vents on the black backdrop under Alice's silhouette. "Air War" delivered a sensational burst of ringing tension, resonating the unstable interplay between beat and melody that made the studio version so climactic to begin with.

Curious omissions included fan favorites "Untrust Us" and "Vanished," but their remix of Klaxons' "Atlantis to Interzone" was all sirens and sweeping periphery, making for a surefire crowd-pleaser with Alice singing the vocals. Soon following, the violence of "Love and Caring" unleashed in full to usher in "our era, close to get" before Glass decided to let the audience carry some of the weight and lifted herself onto the sea of dancing bodies below.

More surprising, perhaps, than the energy of the show was the urgency with which it reached its conclusion-clocking in at a little over 40 minutes without any encore to speak of. For those who paid for their tickets, the night's duration may have been an understandable letdown.

No regrets, however, as the group still lived up to expectations and left an excited San Francisco audience physically exhausted and dreaming of Atari-powered dreamscapes. We can only hope that they'll be back soon to give us our crystallized fix and sparkplug our night again.

Break out the Atari with Nathan at [email protected]

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