Crystal Castles’ decision to return to the stage was mired in controversy from the start. After the departure of Alice Glass in 2015, the former vocalist has been critical of her former songwriting partner Ethan Kath, for his harsh words for Glass as well as his lack of feminist support in general. Kath and new vocalist Edith Frances, along with drummer Christopher Chartrand performed a set as part of the Jukely Sound Projects, with free admission for Jukely members.
LA noise rockers No Age, seemed like an outlier in a night of electronica acts. With the brash combination of singer/drummer Dean Allen Spunt and guitarist Randy Randall, the simple song structure relied primarily on a combination of chunky barre chords, in a constant power struggle with energetic drumming beneath Ramones-esque yelling. Initially, the band began with Spunt on bass a la acts like Girlpool. While the band certainly delivered a level of punk rock energy, they also brought some unwarranted male aggression, with leather clad punk rock bros shoving women out of the way during their set. Although security eventually got a handle on the situation it wasn’t nearly soon enough as the atmosphere was clearly tense enough, with drunk fans passive aggressively throwing shade and at worst disrespecting personal boundaries under the guise of dancing.
J-pop trio Kero Kero Bonito brought an ecstatic level of energy to their set, hyping up the crowd with “Kero Kero Bonito” before launching into their latest single “Lipslap.” As a live act, vocalist Sarah Midori Perry controls the stage with props, leaping about while flawlessly rapping in between English and Japanese. Primarily playing tracks off their LP “Intro Bonito” the band also launched into fan favorite singles like “Picture This” and “Build It Up.” Although, it was deeply disheartening to see a majority of the people in the crowd either stonefaced or unresponsive to the band almost solely for the fact that the group is unabashedly Japanese. Having caught the band at their headlining show at Palisades during CMJ, the trio managed to make the tiny venue into a massive party and a crowd singing along, but in a larger venue with a minimal amount of superfans, the band was still better received than the opening act due to their dance-pop sensibilities, but nonetheless weren’t given the level of admiration they deserved.
With a crowd finally reaching their apex of intoxication, Crystal Castles finally took to the stage, with new singer Edith Frances clad in a cover up, sunglasses, and beret straight out of a YSL lookbook. Launching into a new track off their upcoming release, the rest of the set was comprised of the band basically playing the hits like “Baptism” and “Celestica”, and making clear omissions of any tracks that had more connections to Glass’ writing or lyrics. This caused the band to have to fill time during the show with Frances joining Kath on the turntables for a DJ set, that was often far too long and almost unnecessary, for a group with as many recognizable tracks as they have under their belt. Of course, this may change as the group progresses. Having dropped two tracks with Frances, “Frail” and “Deicide.”
Overall, the band is an assault to the senses with harsh backlighting and strobes, forcing the trio into silhouette, with a wall of cannon-like noises. By the time the band came back for their encore of “Untrust Us”, the audience had become thoroughly exhausted with intense grinding traded off for slumping over the barricade. While Frances is still developing her stage presence, having to fill some big shoes in replacing Glass, she doesn’t nearly have the same craft behind Glass’ approach. Where Glass was confrontational and commanding the stage, interacting with the crowd irrespective of what her bandmates were doing in the background, Frances seems far more reserved, and almost resigned to will of Kath and Chartrand. The band themselves have no words whatsoever between tracks, shrouding themselves in mystery. Many of their superfans were left high and dry with the omission of the track “Empathy” being chanted repeatedly throughout the night well after the encore, possibly the best metaphor for the band overall. While seeing the band play the hits can be fulfilling, the new Crystal Castles falls flat in live performance and hopefully can develop from where they are.