Onstage, Hargett’s stark prowess, lurking hung-over whine, and longing droned moans closely recall suicidal Joy Division pilot, Ian Curtis. There are no verbal exchanges with his mates and between-song chattering is non-existent. It’s pure business for Crystal Stilts, as they deliver each tune in a more cryptic, less styptic manner. The energy level is pushed upward and the arrangements are a tad elongated. Whereas Alight Of Night feels a bit unsettled, adrift, and far off, there’s a pervasive urgency and veritable immediacy bringing up each track’s intrinsic worth in concert. On record, Hargett’s voice is too low in the mix, but live, that problem’s been resolved. Townsend’s tenacious guitar lattice works up a storm as Forrester lurches over a cheap Casio and Adler’s surf-styled and spaghetti Western-imbibed bass notes weave in and out. Newest member, Frankie Rose, bangs out a stompin’ tribal beat, striking a snare-drummed tambourine for chimed accentuation and standing for the set’s entirety.
A noticeable addition, Rose certainly met her match with Crystal Stilts, leaving promising female trio, the Vivian Girls, in the process. Comparisons to legendary Velvet Underground drummer Moe Tucker (another percussive lass anchoring an otherwise male band) are palpable, since she places heavy emphasis on toms and forsakes cymbals. Originally from San Francisco’s Mission District, a cultural arts hotbed, Rose evidently yearned to live on the East Coast.
“She had show biz Hollywood pizzazz,” jokes Townsend.
“She prefers New York and has the right ‘tude,” Hargett confirms.
Concerning her old Left Coast environs, the independent dark-haired stick handler contends, “I think there’s a bit of a glass ceiling out there musically. Even getting on a tiny label out there is extremely difficult. I knew a ton of great bands that got no record signings but would if they came to New York. I feel like it’s a lot easier working out here.”
Rose’s primal stick work secures the duskily shaded foundation, fashioning a raw rhythmic rumble for the boys to rally ‘round. She provides ballast for each loopy, warped anodyne, girding the blush, sinewy textures and any ancillary reverb.
“I don’t think we’ll ever put out a record that’s totally pristine,” Hargett says. “The way I mixed this album, I thought I was being more accessible on purpose. I’d have no plans recording anything cleanly. Up until recently, I’d have lyrics and Andy would start playing a progression and then I’d start singing.”
Captive hexed opener, “The Dazzler,” sets the ghostly tone for Alight Of Night, as Hargett’s distant monotone voice flatlines beneath a murky Velvet-y guitar figure that reappears for truncated Loaded-era grimace, “Verdant Gaze,” and dramatic finale, “City In The Sea.” Cadaverous narcosis, “Graveyard Orbit,” rides twanging surf riffs to an elliptical catacomb. Roughly up-tempo and wholly emotive, “The Sinking,” earns points as the most approachable dalliance. And on their unofficial group anthem, “Crystal Stilts,” climactic organ ripples through a lo-fi Wall Of Sound veneer while Hargett bellows about “courting, snorting, distorting, recording dreams to disturb the procession preserved in our mind.”
He declares, “I’m not gonna recite my lyrics, but ‘Crystal Stilts’ is a theme song. I don’t want the lyrics to be apparent at first. If someone wants to get into the lyrics, fine. I labored over the songs’ order—a lot of choosing what to sing in a song. There were thoughts as to where each should go on the record to make things click. It’s all pretty specific. There’s a trajectory running through Alight Of Night, but it’s not necessarily a theme. I tried not to over-think.”
Adler chimes in. “It’s more impressionist than specific. I always push for long jams.”
Hargett agrees, “When we first started practicing, that’s more along the lines of what we did. He would drum on a 10-minute jam and we’d condense it and start writing tighter songs.”
Before heading to the stage for tonight’s presentation, I ask Hargett what he’s been listening to for the last few months. He responded quickly, naming a few ripened and diverse artists.
“The three things I’ve been listening to recently are (‘80s goth-punks) the Gun Club, Sierra Leone singer/guitarist S.E. Rogie, and (nascent ‘50s rocker) Bo Diddley’s first two records. We have a couple new songs that are probably more like Bo Diddley.”
And as I watch the band perform, those Bo Diddley influences seem to emerge at frequent intervals. Perhaps that unrefined approach suits them best after all.
This and John Fortunato’s many articles on music can be found at beermelodies.com.