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All words: Jeb Gavin

All photos: Michelle Yass & Mark Zimin

There was a moment early on during the Crystal Stilts set Saturday night at the Rock and Roll Hotel when I expected someone dressed as Michael Myers’ character Dieter from Saturday Night Live to appear on stage and announce, “now is ze time on Sprockets vhen ve dance!” In stark contrast to the bachelorette parties and Dayglo refugees upstairs, there was this sinister energy reverberating through the room, even as people danced along.

Hailing from Brooklyn, Crystal Stilts describe themselves as post-punk. A comparison I find apt, considering how much they initially sounded like a more purposeful Joy Division. The dour, distorted, and echoing vocals were talk/sung over jangling guitars and pounding drums. All these sounds mingled with repetitive, minor key electric organ work, the kind you’d expect would precede the detectives from Dragnet encountering evil hippies in the course of one of their investigations. Again, this all started out slightly terrifying. I couldn’t make out the lyrics; for all I know they were singing about proper human butchering techniques.

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But then something odd happened. At first it seemed as though only the die-hard fans were dancing, with everyone else stunned by the good but menacing sound pumping from the speakers. Occasionally a guitar chord would shimmer instead of jangle harshly;cracks through which the light shined through. Half way through the set, this bubbling, peppy bass line wormed out from under the darker elements, and more people started swaying to the beat.

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By the end of the show, the band was churning through manic, early ‘60s bubblegum pop, with the same instruments and tempo. The shift in tone was remarkable and unexpected. The half filled room suddenly started dancing like they meant it, not like they’d been lulled into it by sorcery. The rapid-fire lighting of abstract art, mostly in primary colors thrown from the back of the room forward, projected on the band and backdrop alike stopped disorientating. It was transformed into the weirdest, fastest gallery showing of elementary school art work imaginable, close ups of pastel and crayon drawings, and sketches made of water soluble paint lighting up the stage.

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With a final, grinding, wheezing jam the band brought the show to a close. Everyone seemed happy with the result, but I doubt anyone could say with certainty how the band that took the stage that night was the same band when the show ended. Maybe we all saw a truly transitive work of art. I guess I’ll have to see them the next time they come around, and find out if this was normal. It certainly doesn’t happen to me often enough.

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  • Photos by Mark Zimin:

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Opening act Widowspeak:

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