Crystal Stilts @ Farm 255, Athens GA, 24.04.11
by Scott Creney
Crystal Stilts, again? the editor asks me.
But they’re playing up the street from me. For free.
Fine, but I need a different take from Lewis’s, OK?
It’s easy to think, based on what you read, that it’s all silver spoons and easy living for Crystal Stilts, a victory lap around the top of the rock’n’roll septic tank, a ride fueled by Pitchfork reviews and ample supplies of easy drugs and even easier sex. So how come they’re playing a free show outside a restaurant for donations on a Sunday night in Athens, Georgia?
Athens is a sleepy college town famous for a music scene that used to be famous. It is especially sleepy on Sunday because it’s illegal for bars to serve alcohol, especially as most of downtown consists of bar after bar after bar. Let’s just say there’s plenty of on-street parking available tonight.
A stretch of sidewalk runs off Washington St. It probably used to be an alley years ago, but someone fixed it up and created a little walkway that takes you past an overpriced burger place, a head shop called, provocatively/predictably enough, 42 degrees (42⁰, get it?) and eventually ends at the door of Farm 255. Someone has scribbled “dinner til 9:30” on the chalkboard outside the restaurant, which is worrisome because the Facebook invite had the first band going on at 9:15. And as of 9:00, the entire restaurant, including the patio, is crammed full of people — none of whom are there to see Crystal Stilts.
Farm 255 is the kind of restaurant that has a mission statement. It informs you that Farm 255 seeks to “reconnect food to its roots and people to their food”. It probably goes without saying that this evangelical desire does not extend to pricing any of their main entrees under $13 (based on my complete lack of research, I’m going to assume that’s around $1,000 in Australian money).
The inside of the restaurant is the typical poverty-chic fashionable among the educated classes these days — huge walls of exposed brick, an impressive piece of finely carved wood suspended above the bar, wooden floors, and large windows framing the room that nearly extend to the top of the 20-foot high ceiling. A piece of driftwood hangs on the bathroom wall above the mirror with various initials carved into it. Whether this vandalism is authentic or created by cutting-edge interior designers is anyone’s guess.
During the winter, most shows take place inside the restaurant, but the weather tonight is fucking perfect and so all the rock’n’roll will be occurring outside, on the wooden stage built in the corner of the patio. It is now 9:10. We continue to wait.
Crystal Cathedral may or may not already be here. I have a vague idea of what they look like, but there are at least a dozen people here who fit that criteria.
The guy running the show has yet to turn up. The restaurant, including the patio, is still half full of people who could care less about the coming show. The drunk college girl next to me has switched to water, perhaps aware of the long stumbling stretch of sidewalk that awaits her.
An agitated member of Crystal Clear asks the bartender where ‘Malcolm’ is. This is not the name of the person running the show, though he did get the first letter right. Regardless, ‘Malcolm’ is nowhere to be found.
I’ve had an empty beer sitting in front of me for the last five minutes. There are only four of us still sitting at the bar. It would appear that Farm 255 is not so committed to reconnecting people to their drinks.
No sign of anyone. No opening act. No ‘Malcolm.’ No nothing. The aforementioned member of Crystal Days is now pacing furiously.
‘Malcolm’ arrives and immediately begins setting up the microphones. He remains chilled out, and oblivious to any stress he may have created.
Tonight’s show is starting to border on farce, through no fault of the band. But regardless, there’s an audience of about 50 or so people by the time the band starts playing around 11:25 (only 10 minutes after the scheduled Facebook time, so there). But only 50 people? For a free show? On a night when every other place in town is closed? Maybe Pitchfork isn’t as influential as we think it is.
And what about the music? Well hell, if Crystal Light doesn’t care about breaking any new ground, I don’t see why I should. Go look them up on Allmusic, Wikipedia, Pitchfork, whoever. I’ll go along with whatever they said. And don’t ask me what color eyes any of Crystal Methamphetamine have. They didn’t open them once the entire set.
I will say this, though. Crystal Ship seems too afraid of failure, afraid of being laughed at, to take any risks. We spend enough of our lives being told to follow the rules that you have to go along with to get along. Rock’n’roll is supposed to be the exception, where we turn to for our freedom. Somewhere along the line, apparently, Crystal Pepsi and I developed different ideas of what rock music could/should/would do.
And yet in spite of all this, here they are plodding away. Make no mistake. If you’ve never toured before, it’s hard, gruelling work, and unless you’ve reached a certain level — a level that, despite the decent reviews appears to still be eluding Crystal Gayle — it is pretty much thankless. One can question their originality. One can question their necessity. But you can’t question their commitment. Throughout the evening, nobody in the band throws a tantrum. They conduct themselves with dignity and grace in the face of adversity.
Respect is due — or pity. It’s hard to tell, especially in this age of fame-chasers, when would-be household names fight for our attention, or even our scorn. Regardless of how you feel — or don’t feel — about their music, it’s hard to push away the nagging thought that a reality show about Crystal Nacht, and their struggles to be heard, would be infinitely more compelling than their new album.
And it would probably have a hell of a lot more to say about the times we are living in.
Photography: Subba Cultcha