As Crystal Castles surged and strobed their way through a 60-minute set Wednesday at the Newport, all eyes were on punk-rock wunderkind Alice Glass, mine included. She is freakish and kinetic, and there would be no Crystal Castles — or at least no Crystal Castles success story — without her. Glass provided plenty of swiveling, bouncing, crowd surfing and all the activities you'd want from a demonic pixie fronting an aggro-electro band. I could barely hear her vocals most of the night, but it didn't much matter; Glass' presence in Crystal Castles is more physical than aural. She is the rabble-rouser, the goth cheerleader. Bobbing on stage or writhing atop the crowd, she is a constant reminder of the kind of violent body moving you should be indulging in at a Crystal Castles concert.
Near the end of the set, I found myself zeroing in on the other half of Crystal Castles, producer Ethan Kath. There would be no band without Kath either, for obvious reasons: He writes all the music and plucked Glass out of obscurity to sing over his concoctions. His music is unique in that it chills the spine and lights a fire in the belly with one swoop. It's easy to imagine Kath finding some degree of success doing DJ sets with a similar strobe-heavy setup and an all-but-anonymous drummer like the one who added extra oomph to Crystal Castles' set.
This all congealed into a hell of a party Wednesday, one that lasted exactly as long as it should have and not a minute longer. The Crystal Castles formula is a successful one, and a somewhat revolutionary one, but it hasn't proved to be as versatile as I hope it becomes someday. Oodles of excitement can be wrung from pulsating club music colored by vocoders and synths, occasionally jabbed in the face by shards of ghoulish, percussion-rattled hardcore. Still, there were several times last night when I found myself thinking, "Didn't they already play this song?" So credit them for blowing minds but also for knowing their limits — not something I'd expect from the makers of such dark, hedonistic music.