Live: Dean + Britta, Crystal Stilts; Prospect Park Bandshell, 08.01.09

I think I’m coming around on Crystal Stilts. An abundance of people whose opinions I trust have had good things to say about them in the past, and I’m finding my indifference towards them moving distinctly towards the “like” column. Seeing them live had a dual effect on me: on the plus side, I found myself noticing the presence of more subtle notes in their deadpan pop songs, which in turn made me more appreciative of the music that they were playing, and has prompted me to delve back into Alight of Night and their self-titled 12″. On the minus side — and admittedly, this is a live-show-only qualm — the group’s stage presence can be frustrating. Admittedly, the Prospect Park Bandshell is a space for which the word “cavernous” is an understatement, but nonetheless: with the exception of bassist Kyle Forrester and (possibly) drummer Frankie Rose, the band did a good job of hiding any visible intensity, while nonetheless playing in a way that didn’t sound at all halfhearted. Admittedly, it’s a difficult trick to pull off, but at the same time: it’s hard for me to feel compelled by what I hear coming from the stage if the band doesn’t look particularly concerned about it.

Headliners Dean & Britta were, admittedly, not exactly channeling the early-80s Replacements on stage, but even playing with minimal lighting beneath Andy Warhol’s screen tests, they never ceased to draw attention. The onstage rapport between Britta Philips and Dean Wareham, the drumming of Anthony LaMarca, and Wareham’s tendency to go for the unexpected in his solos all contributed to the group’s ability to be compelling on stage. The set, including covers of Bob Dylan and Lou Reed songs (Reed’s screen test needed no introduction, and got a fair amount of applause from the crowd), never lacked for dynamic range, and the encore of Galaxie 500‘s “Fourth of July” felt spot-on.

3 thoughts on “Live: Dean + Britta, Crystal Stilts; Prospect Park Bandshell, 08.01.09

  1. I’ve been in bands where no one jumped around and acted like Bono or something and would get similar complaints. I just don’t understand the corrolation that someone jumping around like a jackass obviously means they’re more interested or commited than someone who is a bit more calm on stage. The assumption that it seems a band that isn’t overly active doesn’t care about what they are doing is one i abhor and fail to comprehend.

  2. I’m not necessarily asking for Crystal Stilts to start channeling a mid-90s hardcore band on stage — but I think there’s a nonchalance (at times) to their live presence that I do find frustrating. One can definitely come off as calm and still seem focused on stage, as I tried to convey with my description of Dean Wareham’s demeanor at the same show…

  3. I was at this show bopping and smiling along the whole set stage right, and I’ve seen the Stilts a few times before, and honestly I can empathize. First time I saw them was at the Shank and I was disappointed, mostly cos I love Alight of Night. It’s a great record – listen after listen! But I wasn’t prepared for Brad’s totally deadpan performance and wasted xanned-out stare.
    At Prospect Park he had on his characteristic wayfarers and moved about within a 6-inch radius. He was not much more animated than at the Shank. But the keyboardist Kyle was funny and self-deprecating and totally engaging with the audience. He even had the kids in the family crowd up front (all sitting in folding chairs, mind you) do a dance-off! And they all sounded fucking great!

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