Since I saw Crystal Castles and Suuns last Thursday at the Fox Theater in Pomona, a few people have asked me how the show was. My reply has remained the same: “Have you ever seen Crystal Castles?” To those who hadn’t, I follow their blank expression with the assurance that it was quite fun, but those who have seen the Canadian duo understand my reply perfectly.
Crystal Castles have released a couple of well-respected, never boring albums. But live, they are another beast entirely. Hearing the music becomes less important than feeling the music, and I don’t mean that in some transcendental way. I mean literally feeling the bass in your bones. I mean blinding yourself with chaotic muti-colored lights. I mean having singer Alice Glass clawing over you while singing from the pit of her soul. And if you have heard about these shows, any writing I can possibly come up with is a poor substitute to getting out there and experiencing it.
Of course, things are a little different than they used to be. Crystal Castles are now at the point to where selling out a 2000 person venue thirty miles outside of the city isn’t a struggle. Not only that, but tickets to the show were fetching seventy bucks on the street. And their reputation for insanity has spread to the security teams, who held up lines for more than thirty minutes for rigorous security screenings, including the forced discarding of opened cigarette packs. The environment inside the former movie house resembled that of a prison, with strict policies on who was allowed where and bartering for contraband items taking place in every dark corner.
Opening the show was Suuns, the Clinic-soundalike Quebec-based band. Though not the best fit with Crystal Castles, Suuns had something going for them that a more-appropriate opener wouldn’t: restraint. And that isn’t a nice way to say they were boring, because they weren’t. Rather, Suuns know the power of a slow burn. Closer “Sweet Nothing” is a prime example of this, building in much of the same way that Wilco’s “Spiders (Kidsmoke)” does. It may take seven minutes to realize that you rocked out, but some things are worth the wait. And sure the singer knew how to shake his shaggy hair with fury, but the real appeal hangs in the subtleties, something that was probably lost on the ecstatic crowd. (Is that what you call a crowd full of people on ecstasy?)
In between bands, the half-dozen photographers got word that there would not be any photo pit access for Crystal Castles. Now, because I do my homework, I knew ahead of time that singer Alice Glass is currently crippled. I heard she was on crutches, but, also because I do my homework, I knew this hasn’t stopped her from crowd surfing like her old self. So finding out that we would be shooting from the side-stage signified to me that she would be jumping. This wasn’t the case, but she did make her way into the crowd in more reasonable manners.
So as we took our places stage left, we were also instructed that flash photography would be permitted. This isn’t necessarily a good thing, as it meant that the lighting was probably going to be unshootable. Telling a photographer that they can use flash is basically like dismissing their attempts with a futile “good luck.” But still, being on the stage with Crystal Castles created an exhilarating vibe among the media, which nearly deflated when a non-descript middle-aged white dude took the stage. He announced that Alice had suffered a serious injury and that doctors had advised her to cancel the tour. But, in true hype-man fashion, he concluded with “Alice said ‘fuck that,'” cueing the dimming of the lights and an explosion in the crowd. Yep, Crystal Castles were playing and were not going to hold back a thing.
Alice Glass seemed to have lost the crutches I had heard about, but, rather, was sporting one cane/crutch thing usually reserved for scoliosis sufferers. She also had a giant walking boot, which swallowed her skinny leg in a near-comical fashion. But the injury didn’t seem to stop Glass from going nuts. She still climbed on top of the monitors, still fell to the ground in emotion, still left every bit of herself on the stage in ruin, still pounded Jim Beam like your uncle that no one talks to. The crutch became just another stage prop, making her seem that much more badass, and rightfully so.
Musically, the show was chaotic. But I’ve never heard someone leave a Crystal Castles show talking about the music. All the songs you know were played: “Alice Practice,” “Celestica,” “Baptism,” the Robert Smith-less “Not In Love.” Fans erupted every time a song would start, but I found myself rarely listening. I was much more interested in watching. Glass’ stage presence is remarkable for such a tiny person. It is easy to forget that Crystal Castles is a duo, or that they add a third member to the live act. By the time the show came to its encoreless conclusion, the Pomona audience had witnessed the kind of overcoming injury that is reserved for the NFL. Alice Glass is like the indie Ronnie Lott; I’m surprised she doesn’t just cut off her own leg so it doesn’t get in the way.