Ethan Kath of Crystal Castles walked past me at Mr. Smalls venue before their Pittsburgh, PA show. It’s true. Pictureplane had just finished his opening set and it happened. No one noticed. No one flinched or bothered to take a second glance. It just happened. I followed him with my eyes, then looked at my brother, my accomplice for the night, who hadn’t even thought of it until I made mention of it.
What’s interesting about this is not the anonymous persona that Kath is able to keep despite being one-half of the duo. The interesting part about this is also not how the story would’ve been different if the band’s more recognizable member, Alice Glass, attempted to walk through the venue. But, what is this intriguing side-fact here for? More on that in a second.
Journalists seem to give this band a reputation of encouraging mayhem. For example, on a 2011 review of a Riviera Theater Chicago show, mosh pits were apparently so out of hand that security was bracing themselves and leading people up to the balcony to ensure safety. Glass has punched fans and hit them with her microphone, afterward defending herself stating “I’ve never punched someone that didn’t deserve it.” Fans feed into this frenzy as well with countless YouTube comments sharing stories of seeing ears being bitten off and attending one of the most high energy shows they’ve ever experienced.
The funny thing about everything in the aforementioned paragraph is that nothing was out of control at the Pittsburgh, PA show. The energy? It was raw and it was present with a vengeance to sing, dance, jump, and cheer, but not one mosh pit or inconsiderate attendant was present. This is known because I b-lined it to the very back of the venue to avoid any hostility, which tends to happen in the middle and front sections of lively slows. I’ve wanted to see these two perform since their debut record and I was not about to have some asshole disrupt my celebration of it finally happening. I wanted to see it all.
Alice Glass crowd surfed several times, even having a few audience members hold her up so she could completely stand (see the above picture), but all the while the singer still remained cautious; watching where she would step and who she would climb on.
Now, remember with Ethan Kath walked past me? The most mesmerizing part of all of this is that when Crystal Castles take the stage they’re both equally present. They’re one entity, a band with lots of lights, synthesizers, live drummer Christopher Chartrand, and a message. In the picture above, Glass is having the crowd hold her up while Kath mans the music, but he’s obviously present and an extremely recognizable character inside the photo.
During the hour and a half set, the live trio plowed through their three album catalog and straying for more heavier versions of the songs than what the album versions give away. It’s an intricate set up, with vocoder and vocal effects varying in and out of the songs, “Suffocation” is a great example of this as it features less of a high-frequency cut off on it’s leading synth-bass, which opens up the song for a more hard-hitting, harsh version of the track.
At times, Crystal Castles stray for difference, with a stripped sound as well. The painful, emotional callouts that end “Wrath of God” on (III) have vanished, as have the frontwards and backwards calls on “Plague”. Instead of these manipulations, the crowd is left with Glass’ insane amounts of energy as Ethan and Christopher continue on with the composition of the song. These absences are not to be complained about, but rather justified as it brings a more live feel to the show instead of relying on copious amounts of pre-recorded material that may or may not sync every night (the band does switch up their setlist quite often).
The live rendition of “Doe Deer” is also a treat for longtime fans. It’s pretty obvious that the album version of the song’s lyrics are not really deathray, deathray, deathray. At least, they aren’t straight on. However, the live version does contain these lyrics and much of the heavy, purposefully distorted mixing techniques of this song are traded in so that the melody and rhythms can flourish. The result? Just as hard of a punch as the studio session.
Speaking of Alice Glass, her stage presence is absolutely insane. The amount of effort it takes just to watch how much she does on stage can be exhausting in and of itself. She’ll smoke a few cigarettes, pour whiskey in her mouth to spit all over the crowd, bounce all over the place, and do the things she’s known for. However, there is a segment of the show that gets experiemental. The two of them come together and play with the oscillation and manipulation of various synthesizers on stage. They stand next to each other and stare down at their gear, focused, motivated by the music and what the other is doing. They look like two playmates with a strong bond that’s completely driven and fueled by the other.
This bond became apparent during the encore of the set. At the end of “Intimate,” which is quite the serious song considering many fans equate the lyrics to being about an HIV+ man who is purposefully having unprotected sex and spreading the disease he has, the left speaker seems to blow out. It’s at the catalyst of the track and while it would seem like a bummer to everyone, it was actually interesting that this would happen. Musically speaking, and traveling a bit too far down the rabbit hole, it was as if the meaning of the song transpired through the speakers and became physically too much that it had to give.
Eventually the sound was fixed and “Yes No” followed. Presumably some sync issues happened between communication with Kath and the sound men, that caused a small skip. Ethan looked frustrated, but Alice looked back at the employees handling the sound and gave a big smile that almost read thanks for the effort. The engineers were professional, afterall. Half the crowd was looking back at them when trouble was happening and the two men troubleshot without breaking a sweat.
Alice did, however, take another swig of whiskey after the smile. She didn’t spit it out this time. She swallowed it, showing a bit of vulnerability as well. Regardless, they had nothing to worry about. The serious dance music Crystal Castles presented blew the speakers out and blew the heads up of everyone attending the exuberant, inspiring, light-filled and enthusiastic Pittsburgh show.
Wrath of God
Pale Flesh (Interlude)
Not in Love
Cut from the set, most likely because of issues with the the left speaker being blown out is the “Vietnam/Kerosene/$$ Troopers” medley.