Crystal Antlers; Woolpack Inn, 3/3/14
As well as being a superb live performance, Crystal Antlers’ York show stirred a great ardour for the DIY approach to doing things.
York’s Bad Paintings independent record label brought the band here themselves, squeezing in a secret-ish show on one of the few days off of their Nothing is Real European tour. Instead of a support act, we settle down on bar stools in the independent Woolpack Inn to watch Dog Town and Z-Boys, a beautiful film about Californian counter culture, as documented by Craig Stecyk’s photography. The film follows the Z-Boys and their associates in the 70s who made their own surf boards, and skateboards, and owned their own surf shop, and pioneered their own style of skating, and their own aesthetic too. It’s a novel and fitting start to the evening: Stecyk directed the video to 2013 single ‘Rattlesnake’, and did the artwork for the Nothing is Real album from which it’s taken.
Being from California themselves, surfing regularly and admitting they’re ‘sort of stuck in the past‘, it’s clear what’s brought these artists together. With the film projected on to the wall of the small pub, it slithers slightly over the band’s waiting instruments in front; a subtle reminder in the corner of the eye of a geographical and cultural connection over time transposed in to something new.
Much like the light beams hitting the drum kit, the something new often flickers with the past. Crystal Antlers are a band with influences and comparisons aplenty, yet their live show (and their recorded material for that matter) glows with an originality and vitality that spreads fast. Scaled down from six members to tonight’s four, and without a stage, frontman Jonny Bell soon becomes immersed in the crowd. Bizarre visuals accompany (later revealed to be Tales of the Rat Fink): an onslaught of photographs, animations and old film clips. Cartoon germ-like creatures waddle over faded images of American muscle cars and actors. For the germs, and for the crowd, it’s digesting culture reminiscent the first twenty seconds of the band’s track ‘Liquorice Pizza‘.
When Nothing is Real was released last year, some suggested it had elements of stadium ambitions, that it ‘overlapped with something bigger‘. For this show though, it seems perfect for a tiny venue in a small city. Lyrics such as ‘I lost my legs and will to live’ reverberate as intimate confessions rather than arena-sized melodrama. Of the same LP, Bell said, ‘I’d like people to feel inspired in some way‘. In some way, I leave the show feeling precisely that.