The Stilts arrived in Bristol slap bang in the middle of an extensive European tour to support their recent album Nature Noir. The recently opened exchange was the perfect venue to accommodate the moody sounds of the New York four piece, not quite open long enough to have attained sticky floors and a background smell of punk rock body odour, but nonetheless The Exchange felt suitably grimy and rock n roll. After powerfully bearded support act An Axe who bashed out a tight set of scuzzy, growly guitar rock with borderline surf guitars followed the slightly more restrained, Proper Ornaments, whose clever intertwining guitar work unfortunately drowned out the groups hushed, mumbled vocals.
The Crystal Stilts’ arrival on stage was heralded by the drone of organs and deeply reverbed bass guitar, hyper real images of shorelines at sunset and beautiful countryside projected on and behind the band in psychedelic colours. The drone built and they crashed into the opener, Spirit in Front of Me, whose woozy stomp got the audience members’ feet tapping and heads nodding. This momentum was kept up with rollicking Future Folklore,with singer Brad Hargett cooing “Back to the underworld, back to the sea, back to the garden, just you and me” and sounding as if Iggy Pop fronted the Velvet Underground. When heard live inevitably Hargett’s voice did not have quite the domineering presence it does on record but it still had power and with layers of reverb and echo the lyrics and message still came across clearly.
The band are incredibly slick live due to years of playing together. Drummer Keegan Cooke stole the show with his tight, thundering and precise rhythms. This sound propelled along new track Sticks and Stones and previous release, Star Crawl; featuring great guitar work from JB Townsend and sounding as good as anything the Stilts have done before. Worlds Gone Weird was another highlight; Hargett singing that he’s been “…walking forever, stretching the tether” with his eyes tightly shut swaying in front of the microphone, sometimes grabbing hold as if for support. In keeping with the bands trippy sound, Hargett spent most of the evening in this trance, leaving front man banter duties to keyboardist Kyle Forrester who, after informing us that they were close to breaking the curfew, joked that they wouldn’t want to upset all the neighbouring late night massage parlours. Forrester’s keyboards were excellent throughout, evoking the classic sound of the doors’ Ray Manzarek. Though Hargett’s more introverted approach to stage craft worked well, you did at times wish he’d show some animation in keeping with the cymbal crashes and numerous guitar flourishes. The band were only half way offstage before the hardcore Crystal Stilts fan club were yelling and encouraging them back on for one more prowling, sinister number. Then after that they were off, taking the muggy groove to the rest of Europe.
By Josh Bennett