Crystal Castles, HEALTH
The Mandela Hall, Belfast
Friday, 8th October, 2010
It’s been three years now since new rave exploded onto UK dance floors and turned respectable kids into day-glo wearing moshers addicted to strobe lights and luminous pink glowstick bracelets. Like all of the best fads it went out as fast as it came in. Fortunately, Crystal Castles made it through that period relatively unscathed and played an almost glowstick-free show at Belfast’s Mandella Hall along with their contemporaries HEALTH.
Opening band HEALTH have played a lot of scuzzy, smaller venues in their time so it was exciting to see them at Mandella Hall, where their epic noise-rock comfortably filled the space. Being a typical UK crowd you wouldn’t have thought anyone was even enjoying it until the pounding drums paused momentarily in ‘Crimewave’ and immediately there were united shouts and whistles – perhaps mainly in adoration for Crystal Castles’ version of the very same song.
HEALTH's cover of Pictureplane’s 'Goth Star' was a highlight; as the sampled Fleetwood Mac melody soared through the room the crowd really began to warm up. They ended the set with their track ‘USA Boys’ from their latest album Disco 2. It’s got a grimey hip hop tinge to it, so much so you wouldn’t be surprised if they were to take a leaf out of Gang Gang Dance’s book and call in a rap star to wax lyrical over the top of it. It is a song bursting with attitude and left the crowd feeling pumped for Crystal Castles.
As the lights dimmed and a hooded silhouette of Ethan Kath took to the stage, the packed out hall mostly made up of hyperactive teenagers was buzzing with excitement, everyone wanting to get a glimpse of the bedazzlingly awkward Alice Glass. The first song of the set to really get the crowd moving was ‘Baptism’ from their latest album Crystal Castles II. A seriously hooky techno melody, a 1990s trance-like synth line and Alice shrieking like a kid in a candy store who didn’t get any sweets, it shows off every aspect of the duo’s strengths.
Crystal Castles’ music is a bit like a box of chocolates, not because you never know what you’re going to get, but because there’s a quite a few songs in the selection that just aren’t as good as the others. In amongst the stand out songs of the night there were a lot of mundane house beats and repetitive screams, but this did not seem to bother the majority of fans who were dancing themselves into oblivion. The big tracks from the first album were as strong as ever, particularly ‘Crimewave’ where Alice commands the song through the power of a vocoder. At one point during the show she manages to take crowd surfing to a whole new level, assembled in a kneeling position on top of her adoring fans it’s as though she is levitating. She oozes iconic grace and style – so much so that she is still endearing despite her sullen for sullen's sake attitude.
One of the most powerful songs from the second album is ‘Celestica’, coming as quite a relief, as it is by far the most melodious, angelic sounding anthem of their obnoxiously abrasive repertoire. You can even hear Alice’s vocals clearly as she sings “Follow me into nowhere” it is a perfect little piece of escapism. Alice Glass can definitely sing and it’s good to hear this more demure and less angry side to her voice.
Let’s hope that next time they play Belfast they come back with even more of the euphoric, melancholic dance melodies that could see them play an even bigger venue. By that point glowsticks will be well and truly extinct and perhaps even strobe lighting will be a little passé. You get the feeling that regardless of fads and phases Crystal Castles will still be going strong.