Saturday, October 04, 2008

So, I was desperately searching for a ticket to the Heineken Green Energy event in Galway - Crystal Castles live in the Cuba nightclub on Eyre Square! Crystal Castles are the band I'm the most excited about this year, just like Battles last year or The Go! Team the year before. Normally the free tickets for the Green Energy events are plentiful, but this was a hot, hot gig - lots of people were pushing for very limited space. I kind of resigned myself to having to pay for tickets in Dublin, rather than get a free promo for galway. Then I____. came through for me and got me in, mostly by queueing virtually for days, hanging around the forums etc til tickets came her way.

Last night (Thursday) rolled around and we headed on up to Cuba for the gig. The place was professionally presented by Heineken, lots of green lights on the building, more dancing on the buildings across the street and lots of promotional staff, a "transformer"-style robot, a guy in an alien suit (although his leotard was a little too skin-tight, and a whole load of girls in military-style costume. You got in, got tagged with a bracelet and neckband and free Heineken was pushed on you. All a very smooth process though, with no hitches involved - they could handle an excited crowd and it showed.

The support was Spilly Walker - David Kitt and his brother performing some very polished, very funky electronica. I didn't even know who was up for support and was assuming a DJ or some other filler material, but this was quality music by a professional normally associated with the singer/songwriter genre, and not really an act I would have expected good things from. So I was pleasantly surprised very early in the night. Not too many of the crowd danced for them, and most didn't even seem to be listening to them, which was a shame. I think Spilly Walker is a good side project for Kitt, and I think they'll shine as headline acts in their own right. At least in a perfect world.

The first sign that anything would go amiss was at the bar. As a non-drinker accompanying someone who doesn't normally drink beer, I was assuming that the only beer available would be Heineken, but that we could get some soft drinks/spirits/mixers. Nope, only Heineken tonight mate. We gave up on the bar and headed back to the dance floor. Once the Kitt brothers had finished up, various sound engineers began getting the stage ready for the main act and people began to crowd in tighter and tighter to the fairly limited space that is Cuba's top floor. Most of the crowd were young - very young, I thought, looking around. I know that 'Castles got famous partly for being on Skins, but I thought their fan base would be more among Galways alternative/indie set of seasoned concert goers.

The second sign that anything was amiss was the sight of those various sound engineers realising that the microphone set up wasn't working and spending nearly half an hour after the support act changing mic channels and trying to find working ones. That is way too much fooling around to be doing when the crowd is getting overly eager. It's way too much fooling around to be doing after ten o'clock at night. This stuff should be sorted from before the venue opens, and your equipment should be reliable enough that even if there is a problem later you can fix it quickly - five minutes tops. I guess I should say that the gig was likely to end when the venue opened as a nightclub at 11 o'clock, so this fooling around is eating seriously into how long the performance could possibly be.

Anyway, at about twenty past ten Ethan Kath walked onto the stage and started up his keyboard loops, Korg and Apple Mac at hand. The crowd started to go crazy and surge for the front, which i took as my signal to dive straight into the middle. Alice Glass was on the stage and screaming about 5 seconds later, which only brought out the frenzy in the crowd. This was jam-packed and sardine-tight stuff. Jumping got you suspended off the floor. Dancing was impossible. You moved with the crowd or not at all. It was claustrophobic and brilliant, sweat-soaked and horrible. In this way, it was the perfect venue. If you take Crystal Castles' music as presenting a certain kind of atmosphere, what happened at the front of that dance floor was exactly the physical embodiment of that atmosphere. This was the experience that their songs suggest, it was like being in a live recording of the perfect video for "Alice Practise". Down in the middle, inches from the stage, supporting Glass when she started stage-diving wildly was the gig I was hoping for. Crushed together. Barely moving. Moving en masse. It was, for those front hundred people, an epic night. Brilliant.

Just around eleven, there was a sound like a speaker blowing somewhere, and Glass was still moving her mouth, but the vocals disappeared. The music hit on for another couple of seconds, then crashed to a halt. Crystal Castles disappeared from the stage, angrily, I thought. Heading over to the sides, I was informed that that for the last thirty - forty minutes no-one over off the dancefloor had heard anything but fuzz and distortion. There was only one area worth being in. Maybe the front hundred were happy, and the odd other fan, but the other couple hundred punters were either confused, unhappy or had left already. The sound system hadn't been up to the task this night - it just couldn't handle it.

And finally, we encountered the third factor that almost made it not worth our time to have come to a free gig - the queue for the cloak room. I____ had left her jacket in at the start of the night, but retrieving it was a totally different matter. It was insanity. That is to say, that if the front rows of the gig had been insanity of the best fashion possible to experience, this was the worst insanity of a crowd to have to struggle through. There was no control, and not a single person displayed any patience whatsoever. Just a huge, 90 degree arc of people maybe 15 foot long, all thrashing and panicking about getting their stuff as quickly as possible. From that behaviour, an outsider would have thought that anything in the cloakroom in 20 minutes time was going to get burned or dumped. Your coats would still be there in 20 minutes time, people. They'd still have been there the next day if you came back for them. It was ludicrous, complete madness. All it needed was one bouncer to take charge and push people into a queue, but instead we had huge fat young men trying to push everyone else to the floor so they could walk over them and get to that counter first. Morons.

We escaped intact though. Somehow.

I'll sum up the night briefly. It was epically, epically brilliant. Crystal Castles are worth seeing for the experience of seeing them. It was tragically also a really shit night, punctuated by really crap events. I'm still glad I was there, but only just.
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