Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Live: Love Is All, Crystal Stilts and Cold Cave

Next in the stretch of shows featuring 2008 buzz bands was the Love Is All show featuring opening acts Crystal Stilts and Cold Cave.

I'd never heard of Cold Cave and I came in probably two-thirds of the way through their set. From what I heard, they play synth-made electronic dark wave that falls at the high end of run-of-the-mill - nothing original but certainly well-executed with lush, layered sounds. Their performance style involved the three members standing perfectly still, spaced out Kraftwerk-style along the front of the stage. It's not the most interesting thing to watch, but it works for them, helping them cultivate their dark, subtle atmosphere. All in all, it was alright. I wouldn't be surprised if this band becomes rather popular, but I'm not going to place a vote either way.

The band I was really there to see was up next, the heavily-hyped post punk outfit the Crystal Stilts. The band gets frequent comparisons to Joy Division,and watching them live, I could see why. On their recordings, the Jesus & Mary Chain-styled guitar wins out and their songs sound pretty much like Psychocandy outtakes. But live, it's easier to see the comparison of the Stilts' frontman Brad Hargett to Ian Curtis (it's more in his delivery than his voice), and bassist Andy Adler does sound a bit like early Peter Hook.

I like the Stilts, but I worry they are sliding from self-assurance to apathy and this show did little to reassure me. It was evident that they'd been playing a lot of shows lately. Yes, there was a nice level of comfort and professionalism on stage, but the other side of the coin is that they brought a sense of fatigue and lack of spontaneity. In the end, though, it was forgivable (at least this time around), since they were still having fun and making an effort to put on a show.

The Crystal Stilts (photo from myspace.com)
The Crystal Stilts

In terms of the music, it's rare to see a band with a male singer who can actually sing. On their instruments, the band was more amateur. That's part of their charm but it can be overdone. For example, I have no issue with Frankie Rose's decision to play drums standing up like Mo Tucker, but her improper grip on the sticks made her playing sound noticeably weak. Moreover, the rough-around-the-edges, militantly-simplistic songwriting that made the band noteworthy in the first place may soon become a real bane if they let it tie their hands. This is a great band, and I really did enjoy the show, but it's increasingly clear that they are falling rather short of their potential. Their hype can get them a little further, but if they don't push themselves much harder, their momentum will die out fast.

Headlining the show was Swedish pop band Love Is All. I listened to their album and found it to be pretty generic indie dance-pop. I didn't dislike it, though, and I thought I detected an artistic edge to the music. Live, however, any hints at some sort of intellectual artistry disappeared, and the generic quality of the music came to the fore. Moreover, the music's complete lack of emotion and depth became intensely evident to me. Dance-pop isn't really the most soul-baring of genres but it's quite possible to give it some trace of human feeling without making it less fun.

Love Is All (photo from myspace.com)
Love Is All

Adding to the horror, the band includes a saxophone, which is probably the single worst instrument ever invented. I can count on one hand the number of bands who have effectively used saxophone in contemporary pop music. (Yeah, this isn't one of them.) I did appreciate the bass and drums, however, which duplicated the quirky drive of electronica but with all the richness of a live performance. Still, that wasn't enough to make up for the problems and I left halfway through the set because it was really depressing me. There's a fine line between cheerful-and-fun and obnoxious-and-shallow, and Love Is All lands squarely on the wrong side.

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