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Crystal Stilts + Comet Gain @ Cargo, London, 30.03.11

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by Lewis G Parker

At Cargo last night, I saw one of the most beguiling friendships in music.

British indie-pop band Comet Gain and the New York dulls, Crystal Stilts, playing back-to-back and calling out to one another during their sets is a musical cut-and-shut equivalent to the front end of a Mini Cooper being  grafted onto the back of a hearse. So the Northern British six-piece, comprising two women and at least one person who looked over 35, had all the low-key charm and wit of the Mini Cooper. It had egalitarian, grin-and-bear-it work ethic with the band sharing singing duties between the mainstay, songwriter and droll wordsmith, David Feck (pictured above), and the dove-voiced Rachel Evans. This was a band who released a record called Say Yes! to International Socialism, and who invited the audience to a nearby park to drink cans of beer with them after the show. They played Brix-era Fall-style songs with lyrics and melodies their more successful admirers like The Cribs would bleed for, and the white folks who watched were tempted to dance, and some of the girls actually did boogie to what must be some of the whitest, squarest music alive, it was that good.

I was truly ready to jump in the car and go wherever Comet Gain wanted me to go – to a park with cans of beer and a pretend pirate ship with pictures of new wave cinema icons pasted on the mast. But then I saw the back wheels of the car, Crystal Stilts, and I said there’s no fucking way I’m getting in there, it’s a sure-fire death trap that’ll send me hurtling deep into the abyss of middle-class establishment rock that’s written and talked about by middle-class bloggers, who buy middle-class food at the middle-class farmers’ market and then shit it all out and still have the nerve to call these pieces of turd the products of rock’n’roll music.

The death rattle was ominous as the singer sort of shuffled around onstage, half-dancing because he couldn’t decide if he wanted to be Bobbie Gillespie or the bloke from The Kooks, so he ended up standing there and muttering his vocals like a rich kid who’s been asked by the teacher what his Daddy does for a living but he’s too ashamed to say that he’s a child-molesting crime-lord. Oh, the collar of the denim shirt was buttoned all the way to the top, and he grinned at god knows what; presumably he thinks dragging 300 people into a small venue on a Wednesday night and playing high-school rip-offs of the Jesus And Mary Chain is a really funny thing to do. If people got the joke they weren’t laughing, they weren’t dancing, but pretty inexplicably, they weren’t leaving, either.

I was surprised to see so many people there in the first place, and astounded they stayed through the entirety of Crystal Stilts’ 40-minute plundering of the shoegaze genre. I was even more shocked because Comet Gain are supposedly friends with these tossers who are taking up valuable space on a record label, on festival bills, on this planet. They may not have bad taste because no doubt when they were kids they could afford to buy plenty of records, and they hang around the Brooklyn scene with bands like Vivian Girls and The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart; and when you make a living out of doing cutesy genre pastiches and hang out with other people who do the same, you get a pretty solid idea of musical history, although not much perspective on it. Like Pains … (and less so with Vivian Girls), I saw Crystal Stilts and my greatest fears for the future of rock’n’roll music were confirmed. What was once a revolutionary, aggressive sound has been appropriated and vomited back out of the mouths of contemporary bands, complete with the silver spoons they must have swallowed as infants. It’s all very polite, extremely irritating, and unless the Mini Coopers of this world like Comet Gain can lead the way, Crystal Stilts are exactly the kind of establishment vehicle that will drive rock’n’roll into the abyss of bourgeois vanity at 130 beats per minute.

Everett True on Comet Gain.

10 Responses to Crystal Stilts + Comet Gain @ Cargo, London, 30.03.11

  1. Everett True April 4, 2011 at 6:21 pm

    I think it’s easy for Brits to fall into the trap of assuming that anybody American who grew up enjoying the same music as them must be loaded. I’m not sure why this should be the case. Something to do with a nascent culture cringe perhaps?

    I recall I once got pulled up sharp by kill rock stars for stating that The Gossip were spoiled rich kids. Well, duh. Talk about yr misguided bile. (I fell in love with The Gossip shortly after that.)

    I’m not that sure this anti-snobbish class distinction has much to do with anything, anyway … aside from helping to contribute to a misguided sense of ‘authenticity’ in rock’n’roll which, surely, has been proved often enough to be both irrelevant and rooted in dullard patriarchal tradition? In the early days of Creation Records, McGee would routinely defend me from his working-class chums who picked up on the fact I went to a public (private) school. Never mind the fact me and my three brothers had county scholarships (which covered our clothing), or that we all shared a room until I left home … nor the fact I was clearly poorer than anyone I knew. What mattered was I had no ‘cred’.

    Having said that, I distrust the ‘record collector rock’ of Crystal Stilts and PobBah – not cos they can (or can’t) afford to buy classier vinyl than me (I stole to fuel my habit) but because some of these bands seem needlessly obsessed with recreating the sound of the past, and hence near entirely miss the spirit. But (shrugs), there again … the same was being said of the bands they love, back when they were around.

    And what is Thurston Moore if not the ultimate record collector?

  2. Lewis Parker April 4, 2011 at 7:38 pm

    Nothing wrong with a record collector, like Jack White or Thurston Moore or Bob Dylan. Nothing wrong with being a rich kid either, like Joe Strummer, as long as you can still kick against the pricks with sincerity and passion, rather than simply incorporating rock music into your overall image of coolness, which is what a band like Crystal Stilts does. So when you take something that used to be about aggression and transgression and turn it into a comfortable, banal sound (kind of like Top Shop using a Ramones logo on their t-shirts), that’s what I have a problem with, because it’s taking that sound out of context and appropriating it for the purposes of making them look cool, rather than because they really mean it.

  3. Everett True April 4, 2011 at 8:57 pm

    Yeah, absolutely.

    Mind you, I always had a problem with the Mary Chain for that very reason …

  4. Everett True April 4, 2011 at 9:19 pm

    (from Facebook)

    Tamsin Chapman, Dave Monroe and Rob Mylifeisacid like this.

    Joel Stern
    geez thats a bit rough, i actually thought the crystal stilts lp had some good songs in it. yeah their sound is kinda polite and derivative but its also pretty addictive. not sure why they deserve this kinda slagging off

    Chris Hearn
    comet gain are still together?

    Everett True
    new album coming out. damn fine

    Lewis G. Parker
    it was a fucking terrible performance!

    Lewis G. Parker
    on record they dont sound that bad, but it just goes to show that the real test of a band is their live performances because they can’t keep going over the same song until it sounds remotely aceptable.

    Joel Stern
    all my bands have suffered that same problem

    Andy Barding
    Woah, that’s harsh. And a classic example of a reviewer just not getting it.

    Tamsin Chapman
    Having seen Crystal Stilts play in Brighton a few days before I entirely concur with this review. They had no tunes and no charisma, but what was most noticeable was their air of laziness and complacency.To make true rock & roll music, a band must have anger, excitement, fire. They were dead-eyed and dead boring

    Lewis G. Parker
    Amen, Tamsin! A classic example of somebody getting it!

    Sarah Datblygu
    I agree with Everett’s comments – why this class stuff? And Crystal Stilts are not rich! No silver spoons here. There are far more worthy recipients of this kind of bitchy review.

    Sarah Datblygu
    Ha! If it’s their live performance you had a problem with, the singer Brad came back with his face swollen up like a fucking bowling ball, he has some root canal thing and was on meds all those shows.

    Andrew Hitchcock
    I thought the review was bang on the money and those who felt queasy by it are those that are part of the fucking problem, scenster kuntz

    Andrew Hitchcock
    Correction:middle class scenster kuntz yes the class issue does matter

    Sarah Datblygu
    you don’t know wtf you’re talking about. I don’t like the review because Crystal Stilts are my friends and it’s tone was very bitchy and personal. If you are calling me a middle class scenster cunt, then feel free to check my ‘credentials’ with anyone who knows me: my mum cleans toilets for a ‘living’ and lives in a rented council house.

    Sarah Datblygu
    Don’t even fucking try that ‘middle class’ shit on me – I will ‘win’ your pathetic class battle hands down.

    Lewis G. Parker
    Not personal, since I don’t know them. Your defence of them, however, is personal, since you are friends with them, which makes your opinion more likely to be influenced by nepotism. They may well be nice people, but it was still a bad performance

    Sarah Datblygu
    For the record, I was a fan first, friend later. By about one year at least.

    Martin K Smith
    In my experience it’s only people who most others would regard as ‘middle class’ or ‘scenester’ who chuck those sort of stereotypes about themselves. What is that, transference? I never studied psychology. I was at the gig too though, and though class origin never entered my innocent head I kind of agree with the review: they were pretty lifeless. They looked & sounded like shit and like they didn’t give a shit.. until a drunk French girl got up & danced on stage, knocked their equipment over and chucked beer over them, after which they played about ten times better. The last songs had life and dynamics. Maybe because anger is an energy. Maybe they came on tired & ill. Maybe they just keep their best songs for the end of the set? Y’see this is why I’d never make it as a music journalist: a balanced opinion with no attempt to shoehorn in a grand narrative. Comet Gain were charming and life-affirming, of course, and didn’t play nearly long enough. Bit of bias there too though: Rachel’s voice is more pigeon than dove sometimes, let’s be honest. Btw I’m typing this listening to Ut, how hipster is that? 🙂

  5. Roger Mexico April 4, 2011 at 11:06 pm

    The irony being that Lewis G. Parker’s idea of, and insistence upon, “Rock ‘n’ Roll” is far more codified, rigid, backwards-looking, conservative and all together un-radical and conforming than any innacurate accusations he throws Crystal Stilts way.

  6. Anna Travis April 4, 2011 at 11:33 pm

    The history of rock n’ roll is “taking that sound/image/idea out of context and appropriating it for the purposes of making them look cool.” ‘Bourgeois vanity’, has been the motor of much great art throughout the last two centuries. As to: “rather than because they really mean it” the doomed quest for authenticity is both the destructive core and producer of said bourgeois vanity. For what it’s worth, here is my middle-class (but defiantly anti-organic/food moralising) blogger’s take on the Stilts live: http://www.annatravis.co.uk/

  7. GBE April 5, 2011 at 1:45 am

    I’ve been watching lots of Mike Leigh and reading a book of interviews with him where the subject of class and upward mobility is touched on quite extensively. As much as I love it all, the British think of class in a totally different way than we Americans do. It’s like Brits are hung up on the authenticity that one’s working class status supposedly affords them. There is no caste system in art, can people stop insisting there it? As it is, even the poor kids have a million plunderable songs in their computers these days. Even the poor kids make bad pastiche pop. Lord knows, I’ve stood, arms crossed, as every one of my favorite styles is plundered with diminishing returns. Unfortunately, there’s a lot to criticize about Crystal Stilts, but their social status and upbringing isn’t really one of them. How about getting to the real meat of the issue? That CS have no original ideas and are therefore unworthy of our time?

  8. Sadie April 5, 2011 at 2:42 am

    And what is wrong with being over 35! Some of the best shittin rock and roll out there is made by us oldies!!

  9. LKK April 7, 2011 at 1:21 pm

    Did they spill your pint or steal your crisps or something? I’m assuming they upset you somehow. Well, that or you found out your wife was shagging your best mate immediately before Crystal Stilts took the stage. This isn’t even a music review, it’s a personal attack. I can’t believe the main thing that upset you here was that Comet Gain might be friends with Crystal Stilts – how does that effect the quality of their music? This is extraordinarily lazy journalism; comparing Crystal Stilts to Jesus and Mary Chain? Original, congrats.
    D- Must try harder.

  10. Joe April 18, 2011 at 10:18 am

    Crystal Stilts are shoegaze? What?

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