Crystal Stilts, Case Studies and Posse at the Crocodile, Seattle | 11 May 2011
Brooklyn’s (by way of Florida) Crystal Stilts played the Crocodile this past Wednesday night to a sparse audience. Apparently their darker take on the pop song doesn’t resonate as well with the kids as their labelmates and neighbors the Pains of Being Pure at Heart brighter stylings who sold the place out a few weeks ago. Where the Pains are bright colors and glistening pop hooks, Crystal Stilts dredge around below the ground in the dark of night. Their second album In Love With Oblivion recently released on Slumberland is a more assured effort than their debut. JB Townsend’s guitars rattle, jangle and shatter with a Bo Diddly tenacity while singer Brad Hargett keeps his vocals murky making you dig just a little for the melody.
Oblivion doesn’t make you dig too deep with its abundance of hooks as their previous effort Alight of Night did. Its glistening guitar more often than not offsets Hargett’s caliginous musings. The band have never been ones to lead sing-alongs at their shows, opting to put up a distinct boundary between them and whoever shows up to see them play, and this night was no different. Crystal Stilts where there to play, oblivious to whether there were 50 or 500 people in the room which was good and bad. Good because there were only about 50 people there. They belted out a set of big moody songs that sparkled at times like a partly cloudy day in Seattle. Sun breaks came with the Felt inspired Half a Moon, the pop of Through the Floor, and single Shake the Shackles and then darkness reigned on Prometheus At Large and Flying Into the Sun. Bad because it seemed like their set was cut short by the band’s disaffection or their general awkwardness of just being on stage. Their music sounds intimidating, but to see them play, much of the mystery and malice that their songs conjure disappears because of their lack of a charismatic stage presence. They seemed uncomfortable playing to a mostly empty room and made a short night of it, only playing nine songs plus and encore.
I should not complain too much, because what they played sounded great. Evoking the Bunnymen, Velvets, 13 Floor Elevators and Felt at once is no easy feat, but it felt like it was phoned in. If you’re only going to play nine songs then why even bother with an encore? Just play 10 and leave the stage. Do it like you mean it and leave me wanting more. A band like Crystal Stilts who seem to not give a fuck about whether you’re there or not shouldn’t conform to the tired encore. If they would have done it like they meant it they would not have come back for an encore of Love Is a Wave. They would have left me wanting more, but as it was they left me wondering why they only played 10 songs and hoping they gain some charisma before they play Seattle again.
Jesse Lortz who was the Duke in the Dutchess and the Duke has a new moniker in Case Studies. I had seen him a couple months ago at Cairo with only an acoustic guitar and thought his new songs were ho-hum, but this time getting some help from 3/5 of the Crystal Stilts the songs seemed to have more of an impact. The performance felt more like a practice with Lortz coaxing the Stilts on to “try another one”, but it seemed like they were on the right track and left me hoping the Lortz employs a band when goes to actually record some of these songs.
Kicking off the evening were Seattle’s very own entry into the 90’s retread, Posse. Versus come to mind and that in and of itself should wet your whistle. The trio sounded amazing, and seemed totally comfortable on the Crocodile’s super high stage giving a shout out to their parents who showed up to see them play. If you haven’t checked them out over at their bandcamp page, what are you waiting for?