Crystal Stilts @ Cargo, London 30/03/2011

March 31, 2011 by  

Crystal Stilts are one of those bands with a sound that’s hard to distill into a single term. Working off the hype from their 2008 record Alight Of Night, the five boys from trendy Brooklyn took to the stage with the type of nonchalance that said ‘yeah, we’re going to casually give you a show you’ll love’.

Alas, it was not to go exactly according to that plan.

In the packed and sticky live room at Cargo, you could tell the audience was fully geared up to hear how their blend of post-punk and garage pop would translate live. At the offset, things kicked off well: squealing, creaking samples undulated over synth croaks, and the chatter of the crowd died out quickly in response. A catchy riff broke out from JB Anderson on guitar before the pounding kick drum blew out the eardrums of everyone towards the front of the stage. When singer Brad Hargett took to the mic, it was clear that all comparisons to Ian Curtis and Paul Banks are pretty warranted.

Their early set flitted from Western-style guitars to synth-driven psychedelia in a pattern that at times was hard to follow. At points they recalled early Kings of Leon, and at others even come across like a Doors cover band with an over-enthusiastic organ player on board. While there were some strong refrains and real musicianship from individual band members, as a whole Crystal Stilts didn’t really perform. Yes, they were on stage in front of an audience playing their songs, but there was a closed and insular feel to the set.

In particular, Hargett had a habit of singing with his eyes closed and letting his vocal dynamics flatline. Perhaps in a bid to be heard over the fuzz pop noise of his bandmates he resorted to using the same attack in almost every song. Whatever the reason, the result was a performance that tiptoed dangerously close to passionless. In their defense, Kyle Forester on keys did seem to perk up when a clearly inebriated female fan clambered up and proceeded to dance centre stage, fringe in eyes and hair all a-swishing, for an entire song. We found out later it was only because he was annoyed that she’d spilt a beer on their equipment.

Crystal Stilts sound really good on record, but at Cargo didn’t quite translate that rhythmic roll and tumble to the live setting. Their new record sounds as though it will still hold plenty of gems though.