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It’s the Friday of Great Escape 2009 in Hectors House – now The Blind Tiger – and after groaning through an abominable set from Polly Scattergood, the audience is watching Crystal Antlers lay waste to a packed room. It’s hot, wet with sweat and there’s barely an inch of floorspace not being danced on.
The Long Beach, Californians are playing the simple yet monumentally groovy bass led ‘Parting Shot For The Torn Sky‘ debut EP highlight and the night’s set closer. Despite it being their second gig of the night you get the feeling it’s never going to end, in a good way. Howling guitars, polyrhythms galore and shrieking, tuneful vocals. It feels like the “having fun” bits in Skins look like – slighty naughty and utterly brilliant.
Fast-forward nearly five years, a much improved Scattergood is signed to Mute Records and Crystal Antlers are returning to Brighton, slimmed down from a five piece to three, and promoting their third full length record Nothing Is Real. Where earlier LPs Tentacles and Two Way Mirror fed their wall of sound, psychedelic, garage rock through the most rudimentary of production jobs, Nothing Is Real feels like a more grown up, focused and ambitious record. Take ‘Liccorice Pizza‘; it’s a three-minute grunge song where the instruments are given room to breathe in a verse-chorus-solo structure without an ounce of fat. Live, this mix of the visceral old material with the more immediate, stripped down feel of the new should work out perfectly, especially within the bunker-like boombox of Sticky Mike’s.
Love Thy Neighbour never fail in booking supports that are not only suited to the main act but often leave the audience with more than one band to rave about.
Opening are Nitzam who represent the trippier side of the headliners if Moth are the harder rockers. They are reminiscent of a baggy Brian Jonestown Massacre, hypnotic riffs and great use of wah, delay and soothing keys. Their Life/Symmetary pt.2 release is a pay what you like download from Bandcamp and well worth a listen.
Apologies to Jaguar Cub who were slated to open this night at Sticky Mikes’s, due to a mildly excessive Troll’s Pantry wait – they were not witnessed by Brighton Noise. The burger was outstanding, though.
Nitzam must be the most “un-Brighton” band around at the moment, resolutely uncool with an strangely northern feeling to them. The singer and lead guitarist had a John Squire meets Pearl Jam vibe and their sound seemed very nineties, a decade some of the band can’t have witnessed much of due to their tender age. Vocalist Jack Bartop, had a nasal but melodic singing style, similar to Eddie Vedder and is definitely a capable front man. Interestingly attired lead guitarist Jake Stow, loved the whammy bar and his reverb heavy accompaniments glided over the din very nicely. Unfortunately, the rhythm section were one-paced and the songs soon become interchangeable, with the rhythm guitar in particular stuck in “ride the wave” mode. An unnamed slowy containing the unfortunate line “You are the one who sends me to sleep.” fares no better than the more standard sound. There’s definitely a market for this band but probably not at Crystal Antlers’ gigs.
Though, on this evening’s evidence, identifying psych/garage rockers Crystal Antlers audience was troublesome. A group of around 40 to 50 were left once the support had disappeared and whilst there may have been excuses of other shows in town this gig had already been downgraded to a freebie. There was a sense of unease at this situation prior to the performance and this could have killed the night before it started. This scenario was at the same time completely undeserved but not entirely surprising.
Dealing with the “completely undeserved” first, Crystal Antlers are a better band than the one that wowed a packed Blind Tiger in 2009. Line-up changes have robbed them of the visual element their additional percussionist Damian Edwards added but with a capable drummer like Kevin Stuart, he felt a bit superfluous back then anyway. He commanded his kit and his quick-fire fills and reliable timekeeping amongst the chaotic sound were essential. At times he’s a one man polyrhythm generator. Vocalist/bassist Jonny Bell manhandled his instrument, fingers flying all over the frets and his vocals have improved now mixing a deep croon, along with the electrifying screams of old. Half-way through the set he moved his microphone stand off the stage and into the crowd to engage with his people for the remainder of the gig– it was an inspiring and inspired move. The guitar added the noise whilst the organ offers subtle but not insubstantial melody.
The “not entirely surprising” comment comes from a feeling that Crystal Antlers missed their time. Hyped around the time of their self-titled debut EP – represented tonight by traditional set closer and highlight ‘Parting Shot For A Torn Sky,’ a bass led behemoth of psych-rock – their two subsequent albums both suffered from poor production. It’s a pity because the songs played from those records excel, especially a cathartic ‘Andrew’ with it’s clever serenade like chorus juxtaposed with a thrashy verse. New album Nothing Is Real is well represented in the setlist and was a worthy attempt to recover lost ground through stripping back the songs, keeping to traditional structures and letting Jonny Bell’s voice take more of the limelight. Punky single ‘Licorice Pizza’ in particular stood out. It just feels a little like they’ve abandoned what made them unique and entered a very crowded scene that currently is dominated by fellow Californian’s Thee Oh Sees and Ty Segall. It’s a shame because on tonight’s evidence they still have a huge amount to offer, even in trying circumstances.
Love Thy Neighbour is a collective of music obsessives who promote, release, play, DJ, watch, listen and devour music. We’re based in Brighton, UK. Come to our shows, buy our records and listen to the music we talk about.