Crystal Antlers at The Rhythm Room, 6/2/11

Crystal Antlers
The Rhythm Room
Thursday, June 2

Last night, outside of The Rhythm Room, Damien Edwards of Crystal Antlers explained to me some of the band's punk cred.

"Keith Morris (Circle Jerks, Black Flag, OFF!) is like our godfather," the lanky percussionist said, smoking an American Spirit. "He saw us play in L.A. and was like, 'There are a lot of good bands, and a lot of shitty bands, and you guys are a good.' Then he went down to a liquor store and bought us all trail-mix and said, 'Eat this, it's healthy.'"

True to form, the band's new record, Two-Way Mirror, due out on July 12, bears some of the markings of the association. The black-and-white cover art comes courtesy of Raymond Pettibon, brother of Black Flag's Greg Ginn, who's art has graced the sleeve of many a Black Flag and SST release. The band had fliers printed advertising the new album, on straight printer paper, furthering the old-school vibe.

Edwards complained that his knee was bothering him, something he would need to take care of before hitting the stage. He wandered back into the club to catch the last few songs by local openers Sun Ghost and find some aspirin.

When Crystal Antlers took the stage, I immediately realized that Edwards wasn't joking about needing that knee in top form. No one in the band -- bassist/vocalist Johnny Bell, guitarist Andrew King, keyboardist Cora Foxx, or drummer Kevin Stuart -- were stiff on stage, but none matched Edwards at flailing around. Occasionally, he looked like he was trying to hump his bongos, but more often he was rattling off percussive embellishments to Stuart's constantly morphing beats.

To call Crystal Antlers a punk band isn't quite accurate. The band incorporate psychedelic elements, with echoing guitar and keyboard work, and sometimes shift a song entirely in the middle, like in a new song they played, scheduled for the album coming out after the new one, where the dynamic shifted from a looping, disjointed verse into a full on Cobain-style rager of a chorus.

On "Little Sister," the band takes an almost pastoral approach, yet on a song like "Paper Thin," the band wraps its melodies in a distorted maw. Comparisons are easy to make with the band; they recall the early, angular recordings of Cursive, the widescreen ambition of Trail of Dead, the thrust and tempo of classic West Coast punk. In general, the band recall a time when the  "indie-rock" sound wasn't that hopelessly wimpy, still indebted to the genre's roots in punk and garage rock.

The band offered little chatter between tunes, with Bell dedicating one song to "All the girls, and you guys, too" and claiming that one new song was "About Arizona, I guess."

Turnout was modest, but Bell thanked the crowd. "I hope you are having fun, we are." In keeping with their punk roots, the band played a brief set, clocking in at eight songs. It's nice to see a band that leaves the crowd wanting more, or at least pours all available energy into a short set.

On the closer, Stuart and Edwards screamed along with Bell, both sans microphone. It's seeing that kind of thing that makes you feel good about the state of things, to know that a buzzing band can sign to an established label (Touch and Go), have that label go belly up and essentially have your record drop off the hype radar, then brush it all off, get out on the road again, and put out a D.I.Y. record.

Pretty punk, if you ask me. The sort of thing a trail-mix munching punk legend might even be proud of.

Critic's Notebook

Last Night:
Crystal Antlers at The Rhythm Room

The Crowd: Not too diverse, mainly indie-rock kids.  

I spent most of time listening to Edwards outside. He described Texas ("There's a reason they tell you not to mess with it hundreds of miles away"); working in a bowling alley ("A guy asked me if he could get another colored ball. I said, 'Of course! We don't want you walking around with blue balls!'"); and playing Vice Magazine parties in New York ("Free eight-ounce beers sneak up on you. The whole New York lifestyle sneaks up on you!"). 

Personal Bias:
I wasn't terribly familiar with the band going in.

Random Notebook Dump:
At one point, Stephen Steinbrink of local band French Quarter stole my notebook and wrote the following, alternate review:

"Show was good. Bands played songs. Small turnout. Ended at reasonable hour. End."

Couldn't have said it better myself.