Show Review: Crystal Stilts @ Red 7 (10.24)

Having followed Crystal Stilts since their inception, including their involvement with Cinema Red and Blue, it’s surprising that I hadn’t caught the band live yet.  But, Thursday night was going to change that, and my anticipation was riding high, after absorbing more and more of the group’s recent album, Nature Noir

Read on for my highlights on the night, including photos from Brian Gray.

Austin’s Holy Wave set up the evening perfectly, at least seemingly so (more on that later).  They employed their own filmography as a backdrop to their set, which was drenched in its usual blend of Austin and psychedelic vibes.  Having watched the band for some time now, I still think that the vocals could be cleaned up; its difficult to pull of utilizing multiple singers. Sure, there were a few jams where it fit perfectly, but a few others sounded really muddy for some reason.  Still, they’re a powerful group with a lot to offer our local scene, so I’m grateful they’re getting the much deserved playing time around town.

Zachary Cale of New York took to the stage, and it was the first of several times in the night when I was a bit perplexed by the tour selection of the evening.  Zachary Cale’s Blue Rider record is definitely a stripped down affair, with his finger-picking guitar play getting a great deal of the focus.  It originates in the American folk tradition, and normally I would love it, but for some reason it seemed a bit out of place in the evening, at first.  His inclusion on the stage with Crystal Stilts sporadically through their set did tie things together; I’ll be seeking out more of his work now that I’ve had a full chance to immerse myself in it.

Then up came another act that seemingly didn’t fit in with the night’s bill,  Lovely Bad Things.  Honestly, they brought a full blast of rock n’ roll to the stage, aided by ample movement and hair twirling.  There was something intoxicating about their energy, but again, the vocals were often too much to really make up what was being said.  That’s a shame too, as they blasted out a great rendition of their phenomenal hit, “I Just Want You to Go Away.”  That being said, their set was strong, allowing for great energy and great songs to make their way into the audience.  And they were super loud. Also, they’re a band of interchangeable parts. I dig that biz.

All of these different styles, different approaches, etc. led me to the final conclusion that if any band in the world is doing something right, it’s Crystal Stilts.  They opened their set with “Spirit in Front of Me” off their most recent album, Nature Noir.  My first week with the album, I didn’t completely get the whole concept of the record, but as I’ve immersed myself more into the mood of the record, it’s begun to make sense.  Add to that, their captivating live show last night, and it’s pretty much going to be one of my favorite records.  It’s not just the excellent songs that they pushed through last night, it was the entire performance from the band.  But, for those interested, they devoted a majority of their set to Nature Noir, though they did leave us with a few of the classic hits like “Shake the Shackles.” 

For me the night was made by the unassuming presence of the band as a whole.  I can’t describe it, and I mean no offense, but keyboardist Kyle Forester performs like a possessed robot, whilst guitarist JB does his best to get out of the way of the band’s video production unit.  Then of course there’s singer Brad Hargett.  He’s not the world’s most attractive man, nor does he move much, but he’s captivating all alone.  Whether his arms were militarily placed behind his back or a slight grin crept from the corner of his mouth, you couldn’t keep your eyes from following him along.  Joyously, and possibly feverishly, the audience shook as the guitar rang out.  For me, I’ve seen a lot of bands pull the psych card out; they’re always over-performing, or the songs don’t have anything distinguishable, but that’s not so for Crystal Stilts.  Their set last night proved that on both levels, they eclipse their peers, and I’m grateful to have witnessed such a set.

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