A Crystal Method concert looks like the Music of the Future as it might have been imagined by an exhibit designer at the 1939 World’s Fair. Two men stand alone on a stage, surrounded by consoles bristling with knobs and buttons, which they manipulate in a manner that somehow effects changes in the music—squeaks, squawks, and repetitive chants set to a bone-rattling beat. A screen behind the performers displays images of bubbles and dancing figures, and colored lights swirl and flash. Occasionally, the men exclaim the name of the city they’re in through an amplifier that renders their voices in robotic tones. Many audience members wear 3-D glasses.
I didn’t go to First Ave Sunday night to see the Crystal Method, but out of curiosity I ducked over from the Entry between sets by the bands I was there to see: Royal Bangs and I Need Sleep. To all appearances, the electronica vets were not disappointing the near-capacity crowd, who worked their way up from head-nodding to hand-waving to glowstick-spinning to jumpin’ around. Nor were Crystal Method men Ken Jordan and Scott Kirkland disappointed with their reception; they thanked the crowd several times—always, like the pros they are, being careful to shout to to both Minneapolis and St. Paul—and at the set’s conclusion, Jordan deemed the show “one of the best ever.”
Meanwhile, next door, Royal Bangs were pleased for the modest but enthusiastic audience they attracted. “We know you could be at the Crystal Method,” acknowledged frontman Ryan Schaefer, “though you couldn’t be at Grizzly Bear ’cause they’re sold out. So thanks for being here.” Though their electrovisuals were a little less sophisticated than the Crystal Method’s—instead of a six-foot screen, they had something resembling a Lite-Brite—the Bangs earned their buzz with a stomping set. I am not among those who feel their souls stirred by Schaefer’s sweaty screaming, but I was impressed when guitarist Sam Stratton managed to squeeze sweet licks in through the few gaps in Chris Rusk’s percussive storm. (A tip from one of Rusk’s drumsticks actually flew out and struck me.) A couple of drums that didn’t fit on the Entry’s small stage ended up on the floor in front of the stage, where they were played by multiple band members and, at the set’s climax, an audience member.
Opening for Royal Bangs were I Need Sleep, a seven-man outfit whose seven men all took the stage shirtless. Their many instruments included an electric banjo (the first of those I’ve seen), an accordion, and several horns. That all makes them sound a little more awesome than they actually managed to be, though it wasn’t for lack of trying. Relying a bit more on songwriting and a bit less on cacophony would serve them well, but nonetheless, the ska-bluegrass-polka-grungepunk crown is certainly theirs until someone tries to take it from them.
Jay Gabler (email@example.com) is the Daily Planet’s arts editor.
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